Sunday, May 13, 2012

Congress and Veterans


Dona: Last Tuesday, the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing about mental health care and the realities the VA's Office of Inspector General's VAOIG Report.  The Committee put out a statement after the hearing which included this quote from Committee Chair Jeff Miller, "A veteran who comes to VA for help should never, under any circumstance, have to wait almost two months to receive the evaluation they have asked for and begin the treatment they need.  THere is no excuse for this and no one has taken responsibility. It appears that VA's response in this instance is yet another example of a federal bureaucracy providing a quick-fix, cookie-cutter solution to a very serious, multifaceted problem." Kat, Wally, Ava and C.I. attended the hearing.   Kat reported on it with  "Congress Member Gone Wild" and C.I. reported on it with "Iraq snapshot," "Iraq snapshot," "Congress is supposed to provide oversight"  and "Iraq snapshot."  This issue was also the topic of an April 25th Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing that  was reported on in Kat's  "Fire everyone at the VA,"    "Scott Brown: It's clearly not working (Ava),"   "VA paid out nearly $200 million in bonuses last year (Wally)" and C.I. reported on it in that week's Wednesday's snapshot. and Friday snapshot.  Wally,  briefly, what did the report from the Office of Inspector General find?

Wally: The VA had been claiming for over a year that they had reduced wait time for mental health care appointments to 14 days.  As they presented it repeatedly to Congress, a veteran went in, had an assessment of some sort, and an appointment was scheduled that was for no greater than 14 days from the assessment.  And that is not the case.  That was a lie and it was a repeated lie told over and over.  Senator Patty Murray was hearing different stories from veterans and from people working at VA hospitals.  She asked the Office of Inspector General to look into the issue which is why the report was done.

Dona: Thank you.  And Senator Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Now what Wally just said reminded me of something C.I. reported in the snapshots last week.  This was raised during Thutrsday's hearing:

You know, year after year, in annual budget submissions, in annual performance reports, quarterly reports, Congressional testimony and in countless press releases and statements, the VA has consistently touted the 14 day standard as the number one measure of mental health care access. In a five month investigation; however, the IG found that measure to have no real value and to be essentially meaningless. Mr. Secretary, how is it possible that that's not bubbling up to your level? How is it possible that you don't know that? And who is responsible for misleading Congress and the public on this metric? And how will they be held accountable?

Dona (Con't): C.I.?

C.I.: That quote was from US House Rep. Bill Johnson.

Dona: Yes, and as you reported, that question never got answered.

C.I.: No, it didn't.  Some words were said by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki but they didn't go to the question being asked.  And Bill Johnson really raised the issue with that question.  We saw and heard a lot of nonsense in that hearing, but the point Johnson raised pierced through all of that nonsense.  In this hearing, the VA's position was, "We measured by Y and the IG measured by Z so it's not really a problem."  The 14 days was a lie.  It's a lie that was repeated over and over by the VA.  To Congress and the public, they repeated it.  And it was a lie.  How does that lie start to begin with and how do they excuse repeating it over and over?

Dona: And no one answered that question.  But, Kat, Shinseki rushed to assure Congress one thing about the lie.  What was that?

Kat: The VA did not intentionally lie to Congress. Shinseki stated that twice.  Interestingly enough, he could never say the same about the public.  You'd think, Eric Shinseki's a public servant, you'd think he'd take the time to say, "We didn't mean to mislead the public."  But he never did..  Of course, lying to the public isn't a crime.  Lying to Congress is.  So Shinseki was more worried about saving his ass from legal problems than from a public relations nightmare.

Dona: Thank you, Kat.  That perfectly set up a point I wanted to get to with Ava.  Kat and C.I. reported on US House Rep. Corrine Brown.  Ava, what was your take?

Ava: Brown's an embarrassment.  I can't believe the crap she pulled.  She didn't give a damn about the veterans and made excuses for the VA and lied and misled.  She's an embarrassment, I hope to hell her sorry ass is voted out of Congress.

Dona: She attacked a witness, what was that about?

Ava: Another reason her sorry ass needs to be pulled out of Congress.  The second panel was people who worked outside of the government including Dr. Nicole Sawyer who is a psychologist.  Corrine Brown wanted to show that her bad wigs weren't the trashiest things about her.  She went off on Dr. Sawyer because Chair Miller asked about the comments Shinskeki made.  Corrine Brown cut off the doctor started screaming her head and acting like a crazy woman when usually she just sounds like an uneducated one.

Dona: What set her off?

Ava: The reality was that Shinseki was being critiqued and she wasn't going to have that.  She lied and stated it wasn't fair for the doctor to critique Shinseki.  But, in the first round, when Shinseki was asked about Dr. Sawyer's written remarks, Shinseki offered a critique and Corrine Browne didn't say one damn word.

Dona:  Wally, your take?

Wally: The same as Ava's.  I'll pick up where she left off.  So Corrine Brown cuts off the witness who is answering Miller's questions --

Dona: Brown doesn't even have the floor.  She just barged in while the witness was speaking?

Wally: Correct.  And then after she has her rant, Jeff Miller, the Chair, sort of gives this look like, "Now that the crazy lady is done . . ."  He goes back to asking Dr. Sawyer a question.  Dr. Sawyer is sort of stunned and she replies to Miller's question, starts to, and tries to explain she wasn't trying to offend anyone when Brown cuts her off again and starts screaming her head off about how Miller needs to tell the witness to address her remarks to the Chair.  And it was just embarrassing.  I'm from Florida, Corrine Brown is the Congressional joke of our state.

Dona: So, let's --

Ava: Sorry.  It's not over, Dona.  Miller is attempting to calm down Crazy Corrine.  The hearing's at a complete standstill.  And the crazy woman is insulting Dr. Sawyer, stating she won't listen to Dr. Sawyer because Dr. Sawyer isn't a "doctor."  She calls the woman an "educator."  As an insult.  Miller notes that remark's not going to please educators and Brown doesn't care.  She was just so rude.  If you'd been in that hearing, you would have been shocked that a member of Congress would act the way she did.

Dona: Okay, thanks for that.  C.I., is this typical Corrine Brown?

C.I.: Since January 2009, it has been.  She makes excuses for the VA and rushes to excuse Eric Shinseki's many problems.  I remember an October 15, 2009 hearing on the VA's inability to get checks to veterans -- the GI Bill checks -- for the fall semester and how Corrine Brown was offering excuses for the VA in that hearing too.  That's just one example.  She's disgraced herself.  I have no use for her.

Dona: Kat, closing thoughts?

Kat: The hearing's not going to accomplish anything, the Committe's not going to, until everyone can agree that the veterans are the most important thing.  Corrine Brown was not serving veterans, she's usually not.  When a Republican is in office, there's the pretense that she's tough and will ask questions to protect the veterans.  But when a Democrat's in office, she reveals she's just a partisan and doesn't give a damn about veterans.

Dona: Thank you. This is a rush transcript and we're going to close with some points Disabled American Veterans' Joy Ilem made at the hearing:

The OIG conducted its own analysis and projected that in VHA only 49 percent of patients (versus 95 percent) received full evaluations, to include patient history, diagnosis, and treatment plan, within 14 days and for the remainder of patients, it took 50 days on average.  Additionally, VHA could not always provide existing patients their treatment appointments within 14 days of their desired dates.  DAV began an informal, anonymous online survey for veterans in December 2011, asking about their experience seeking and receiving VA mental health services.  To date, nearly 1,050 veterans from all eras of service have responded to the survey, and our findings were close to those reported by the OIG on waiting times for follow up appointments.  A complete report of DAV's survey results can be found on line at  The OIG report also noted that several mental health providers whom inspectors interviewed had requested desired dates for patients for follow up care based on their personal schedule availabilities rather than the patients' requests, or based on observed clinical need in some cases.  Likewise, VHA schedulers did not consistently follow VHA policy or procedures but scheduled return clinic appointments based on the next available appointment slots, while recording the patients'  "desired" and actual dates as if they were compliant with VA policies.  Since the OIG had found a similar practice in previous audits nearly seven years earlier, and given that VHA had not addressed the long-standing problem, OIG urged VHA to reassess its training, competency and oversight methods and to develop appropriate controls to collect reliable and accurate appointment data for mental health patients. The OIG concluded that the VHA  "... patient scheduling system is broken, the appointment data is inaccurate and schedulers implement inconsistent practices capturing appointment information."  These deficiencies in VHA scheduling system have been documented in numerous reports.  After more than a decade, VA's Office of Information and Technology has still not completed development of a state-of-the-art scheduling system that can effectively manage the scheduling process or provide accurate tracking and reporting.

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