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Military Connection: VA Ordered to Repay Fired Director’s Bonus

Phoenix VA

By Debbie Gregory

A judge ruled that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) repay $5,624 in garnished wages to the disgraced former-director of the VA’s Phoenix clinic.

In 2014, the VA was hit with several blows from a scandal that originated in Phoenix and ignited a powder keg in the media, prompting major personnel changes throughout the VA, and new legislation in Washington. Entire news segments were dedicated to unsatisfactory services and conditions provided by the VA at its Phoenix area clinic, and throughout the country.

Veterans were subjected to wait times for appointments that were months, even years long. Furthermore, VA employees were ordered by their supervisors to cover up the illegal and appalling wait times by hiding them in separate wait lists that VA inspectors would not find.

The Director of the Phoenix clinic, before the scandal broke, was Sharon Helman. The VA relieved Helman of her duties in April, 2014, and attempted to fire her after audits found that secret patient wait lists were in use at the Phoenix clinic. At the time, the VA was told by an appeals judge that they did not have proper grounds to fire Helman for hiding wait times. But the VA also found that Helman had illegally received gifts, including tickets to a Beyonce concert and a trip to Disneyland, for which they were able to fire her.

The VA notified Helman that it would be taking back the $9,000 she received as a bonus for “good performance.” Helman told the VA that she wanted to request a hearing to dispute the move. In the meantime, from August until her ultimate firing in November, the VA was taking the money from her pay.

On February 25th, Judge Alan R. Caramella, a civil service administrative law judge, ruled that the VA must “return the money it has offset from Ms. Helman’s salary until I issue a final decision.”

Judge Caramella’s decision is a blow to VA efforts at accountability for the scandal at a key time.

The VA did not comment on the Helman bonus decision, but said that it is moving ahead with its stated reform efforts that began last summer, and is still looking into personnel and conduct at the facilities in Phoenix.

Many Veterans in Phoenix, and around the country, are upset about the judge’s decision. But the Veteran community hopes that justice will ultimately be served, and Helman will be forced to repay the bonus.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Ordered to Repay Fired Director’s Bonus: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Choice Act in Effect: By Debbie Gregory

VA fires directorThis has been a very distressing and eventful year for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), as well as the Veterans it serves. The year began with allegations of scandal, corruption and improper care from the VA and its healthcare component, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).

Claims of long wait times for VA care contributing to the deaths of more than 40 Veterans got the nation’s attention. Next came the follow-up accusations that VA employees deliberately altered records in order to appear to be in compliance with VA regulations. The substantiation of some of these accusations led to the resignation of Gen. Eric Shinseki as the secretary of the department. These events also led to Americans calling for VA reform.

The public outcry led to the August, 2014 passing of the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, commonly referred to as the “Choice Act.”  Now in effect, the act is providing better care for Veterans enrolled in the VA healthcare system through the hiring of more doctors and staff at VA facilities. It also has a provision to allow Veterans to seek private care if a VA facility cannot grant them an appointment within a reasonable amount of time.

Among other benefits, the Choice Act increases the VA secretary’s authority to fire senior executives. This measure is an attempt to end corruption and misconduct,  while increasing effectiveness among VA employees at all levels.

On October 29, 2014, the VA removed the Director of the Central Alabama Veterans Healthcare System (CAVHCS) from federal service. The decision was made following an investigation by the Office of Accountability Review (OAR) in which allegations of neglect of duty were substantiated.

This removal was done in accordance with provisions made under the Choice Act, and underscores the VA’s commitment to hold leaders accountable and get Veterans the care they need.  The OAR reports directly to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and assists VA facilities in accelerating leadership accountability actions, while ensuring that such actions are applied consistently across the department.

While there is still a long road ahead, this dismissal shows that VA reform is taking place, and that VA Secretary Robert McDonald is working to improve the department and provide Veterans with the care they deserve.

The Veterans Health Administration will begin recruiting for a new director for CAVHCS.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Choice Act in Effect: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Elections Based on Vets Issues: By Debbie Gregory

electionsThe political advertising campaigns on television and radio, as well as the signs filling our street corners, tell us that it is election time. Every year, we hear how great a candidate is and what his or her stances are. Elections in 2014 have a whole new arena that politicians are jumping on the bandwagon for, and you might want to know your candidate’s position before casting your ballot.

For decades, concern over the state of Veterans healthcare was limited to the Veteran community. But the revelation of deficiencies and misconduct within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has generated widespread sympathy for Veterans among the American public. Voters are more sensitive than ever about the treatment of Veterans, and politicians must address the concern of their constituency if they want to win their elections.

This summer, Congress approved a $16.3 billion Veterans care bill. But according to campaign media analysis, there have been more political ads concerning care for Veterans since Labor Day than there were between January 1st and September 1st of this year.

Analysts claim that there have been over 42,000 television spots aired that mentioned Veteran issues. By comparison, only 14,000 ads mentioned equal pay legislation for women, and less than 7,000 ads mentioned terrorism.

This trend may lend some conscientious voters to consider whether their candidate is truly concerned with Veterans affairs, or jumping on the bandwagon in search of votes. Veteran issues are now among the top campaign concerns of 2014, along with employment, healthcare and the economy.

Every American 18 years of age or older should cast their vote this election day. Voters should take the time to educate themselves on the candidates, proposed legislation, and other concerns in the election. To research all incumbent congressional candidates, voters can utilize www.house.gov  and www.senate.gov to find their elected leaders, and see how they have been voting as your representative. For those candidates challenging the incumbents, internet searches can give you sufficient information regarding each candidate, just as long as you read sources beyond the candidates’ personal websites.

As you do your research on your candidates, please pay special attention to congressional candidates’ views on Veterans issues, especially incumbents running for reelection. If their stances or previous votes are not how you would vote, maybe you should consider voting for their opponent.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Elections Based on Vets Issues: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: VA Firing Four Senior Officials: By Debbie Gregory

VA firingsOn October 6, 2014, the Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Sloan Gibson proposed the removal of the Deputy Chief Procurement Officer (DCPO) for the Veterans Health Administration Procurement & Logistics Office. The VA also announced the firing of three other senior officials.

Deputy Secretary Gibson proposed the removal of  DCPO Susan Taylor following an investigation by the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) in which allegations of conduct prejudicial to the government were substantiated. According to reports from the OIG, the investigation found that Taylor had inappropriately influenced the awarding of VA contracts to a private company, and interfered with an investigation into the matter.

The other three firings are also a direct result of wrongdoing discovered by the OIG and the Office of Accountability Review. Affecting three directors of VA healthcare facilities, siting significant delays and wait times for treatment, manipulation of appointment data, neglect of duty, inappropriate handling of VA contracts, and misconduct at VA facilities.

Terry Gerigk Wolf, the director of the VA health care systems in Pittsburgh, PA, is in the process of being fired by the VA for conduct “unbecoming a senior executive.” Wolf has been on administrative leave since June, and does have the right to appeal the decision before the firing is complete.

John Goldman, the director of the VA medical center in Dublin, Georgia, is also in the process of being fired after the VA’s inspector general revealed that the hospital’s staff knowingly closed out over 1,500 patient appointments in an attempt to cover up long wait times. The deceit, under Goldman’s watch, was an attempt to meet goals set by the VA. Goldman announced his retirement just four days before his removal was made public.

The VA is also firing the director of the Central Alabama VA Healthcare System, James Talton. The OIG confirmed that a lack of trained appointment schedulers contributed to delays and dysfunction in the hospital’s podiatry clinic. VA audits showed that more than 6,000 patients waited at least 90 days for care at Talton’s facility this year, and that some schedulers were instructed to hide long wait times.

The removal of Taylor, Wolf, Goldman, and Talton underscore the VA’s stated commitment to hold leaders accountable and get Veterans the care they need.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Firing 4 Senior Officials: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Deaths Not Linked to VA Wait: By Debbie Gregory

no proofThe U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released a memorandum saying that investigators have found no proof that delays in care caused any deaths at a VA hospital in Phoenix. The investigation was ordered in response to an allegation that eventually helped uncover a troubled health care system, where Veterans waited months for appointments while employees falsified records to cover up the delays.

In February, every major news outlet in the country announced that as many as 40 veterans died while awaiting care at the Phoenix VA hospital. The news sparked outrage from Veterans and the general public, alleging that the VA wasn’t fulfilling its duties. The scandal that ensued prompted the resignation of retired Army General Eric Shinseki, who was then-secretary of the VA. Three Phoenix VA Hospital executives were fired. The ordeal also prompted Congress to approve a bill that allotted $16.3 billion in additional spending to reform the department.

The allegations were put forward to Congress by Dr. Samuel Foote, who had worked for the Phoenix VA for over 20 years before retiring in December, 2013. Dr. Foote accused VA leaders in Arizona of collecting bonuses for reducing patient wait times. But that bonus-worthy statistics only came about as a result of data manipulation, rather than improved service for Veterans. Dr. Foote believes that up to 40 patients died while awaiting care.

For months now, the VA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has been investigating the delays. The inspector general runs an independent office within the VA. The final report of the investigation has not been issued. But the OIG recently shared a draft report of its findings with VA officials.

In a written memorandum about the report, VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald said, “It is important to note that while OIG””s case reviews in the report document substantial delays in care, and quality-of-care concerns, OIG was unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the death of these veterans.”

The VA is expected to continue to try to improve its track record for timeliness and quality of care. The $16.3 billion Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 is expected to help with those efforts by staffing more health care professionals, opening new facilities, and allowing Veterans facing long wait times to seek private care.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Deaths Not Linked to VA Wait: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: More Vets Getting Private Care: By Debbie Gregory

VA healthcareThe U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been significantly increasing Veterans referrals to private doctors, following the scandal over unacceptable patient wait times at numerous VA facilities and the allegations of falsified appointment records.

The VA’s reputation has been damaged by claims that multiple Veterans had died while waiting for treatment from the VA healthcare system. Some VA employees have been accused of covering up scheduling blunders. The scandal ultimately led to the resignation of formerVA Secretary Eric Shinseki and the eventual appointment of Robert McDonald.

Since the scandal broke, the VA has made nearly 840,000 referrals for Veterans to receive care from private doctors. This is an increase of over 166,000 referrals from the same period last year.

A $16.3 billion VA overhaul was recently signed into law by President Barack Obama.  Approximately $10 billion is being allotted to pay private healthcare providers to treat Veterans who can’t get timely appointments at their local VA facility. The law also includes $5 billion to hire more doctors and other medical and mental health professionals.

At the National American Veterans (AMVETS) convention, McDonald told a group of Veterans that 1,000 new doctors, nurses and clerks were needed at the Phoenix VA hospital alone. And another 500 new doctors, nurses and clerks were needed at the VA facility in North Las Vegas.

“Until we get systems up to capacity, we’re expanding our use of private care and other non-VA health care to improve access for Veterans experiencing excessive wait times,” McDonald told the Veterans at the convention. “And we’re monitoring non-VA care to ensure Veterans receive the best that they deserve.”

The VA spent about $4.8 billion last year on medical care at non-VA healthcare providers. This factored to be about 10% of the health care costs for the Veterans Health Administration, the agency’s healthcare arm.

McDonald’s appearance at the AMVETS convention was part of a tour that has included stops at the Phoenix VA hospital, a disabled veterans’ convention in Las Vegas, and the VA’s Memphis medical complex.

With adequate funding from the government, vigilant attention from the new VA secretary, and the support of the American public, Veterans can look forward to significant improvement to the VA healthcare system and their privatized care through the VA.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: More Vets Getting Private Care: By Debbie Gregory

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Military Connection: VA Proposes Punishments: By Debbie Gregory

VA punishmentsIn the ongoing battle to right the ship and regain the public’s confidence in the Veteran healthcare system, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) proposed disciplinary actions against employers who were found to have manipulated data.

On July 29, 2014, the VA recommended disciplinary actions against six VA employees from facilities in Fort Collins, CO and Cheyenne, WY. A review by the Inspector General found that select supervisors from these facilities were found to have personally manipulated data, instructed their subordinates to manipulate data, and withheld accurate information from their superiors.

The VA has proposed that two of these supervisors be removed from federal service. Possible punishments for the other supervisors include two suspensions, a demotion and admonishments.

Understandably, Acting -VA Secretary Sloan Gibson is taking a firm position with employees guilty of misconduct. These employees tarnished the VA’s reputation, integrity and effectiveness, But more importantly, these employees have impeded Veterans from receiving the care that they need. In an official VA statement regarding the proposed disciplinary actions, Acting-secretary Gibson said the following:

“Employees who have been found to have manipulated data, withheld accurate information from their supervisors, and affected the timeliness of care Veterans receive do not reflect VA’s values, and their actions will not be tolerated. VA must earn back the trust of Veterans. Part of earning back that trust is holding people accountable when there is documented evidence of willful misconduct and management negligence. We depend on the dedicated service of VA employees and leaders who live by our core values. Those who have not delivered results honestly have and will be held accountable.”

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard &amp,amp,amp, Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Proposes Punishments:  By Debbie Gregory