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Amid VA crisis, Miller asks Obama to act

Amid VA crisis, Miller asks Obama to act
Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., (left) met with Montgomery VA Medical Center staff and other VA officials to see what progress has been made.

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As new allegations of secret waiting lists and manipulated appointment records were popping up across the country, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., was in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday to see what kind of progress is being made at one VA medical center where whistleblowing employees have revealed numerous problems to federal investigators.

The Jackson hospital and regional office have also been the focus of American Legion scrutiny and site visits. Miller and American Legion Executive Director Peter S. Gaytan learned in Jackson that improvements are slowly being made after 70-percent turnover of top managers at the 225-bed facility, which serves about 45,000 veterans a year.

"There have been issues that date back several years at this facility, and I see a movement in the proper direction," said Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, after he met with Joe Battle, director of the G.V. Sonny Montgomery VA Medical Center, and other VA officials. "Are they there? No. Will they be fixed tomorrow? Probably not. There is a very large cultural shift that has to be made."

To that point, Miller sent a letter Tuesday to President Barack Obama requesting that he appoint a bipartisan commission to conduct a head-to-toe study of the entire VA system to recommend improvements and to help restore fast-eroding trust among veterans. More than 6.5 million U.S. military veterans receive health care at VA facilities, several of which have been under fire in the last year for failing to see patients in a timely manner and, in recent weeks, for covering up delayed appointment times. As many as 40 veterans may have died waiting for long-delayed medical appointments at the Phoenix VA Medical Center, which was the subject of an American Legion-led town hall meeting Tuesday in Arizona.

Accompanied by Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., in whose district the Jackson medical center is located, Miller learned that in addition to numerous leadership changes at the facility in the last two years, other employees are receiving disciplinary actions for inadequate performance, and year-end bonuses are growing more difficult to achieve. The medical center has been under investigation for understaffing, long waiting times, poor sterilization procedures and patient misdiagnoses, all of which are being corrected, Battle told the chairman. The list of problems identified at Jackson mirrors other facilities around the country, including Phoenix, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta, Cheyenne, Wyo., and Fort Collins, Colo., where appointment delays have reportedly been kept secret from VA Central Office, and have been blamed for veteran deaths in some instances.

Appointment-time performance is frequently among the criteria for executive bonuses at facilities. In most cases, such as two doctors who spoke out about the Phoenix hospital, employee whistleblowers have brought to light problems and accusations of cooking the appointment-time books at VA facilities. The American Federation of Government Employees, the nation's largest union of federal employees, released a statement Tuesday seeking protection for VA whistleblowers and "calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to end the culture of fear that has plagued the agency and negatively impacted veterans' care. As recent headlines suggest, some management officials have been 'gaming the system' to artificially inflate performance statistics in their medical centers. What is not so recent is the widespread cover-up culture that pervades the VA."

Miller addressed with Battle, director at Jackson for two years, the issues of employee and executive accountability, transparency and whistleblowing.

"I got assurances from him that those who are raising questions can be heard," Miller said. "When you rise to the level of a whistleblower – and you attain that status – obviously there is a concern that sometimes retribution might take place. I don't expect to see that here. If we do, we will be back to talk about those issues. I know that under the past administration, it was a little bit difficult, to say the least, for people to be able to express exactly what they feel. I would hope that what was told to us today is, in fact, the truth, that they will listen to people and not have any retribution."

One challenge raised by VA officials in the meeting and later recognized by Miller is the difficulty recruiting health-care professionals after a facility's problems have been made public.

"One of the toughest things to do, especially when there is negative publicity about a facility, is to recruit people," Miller said. "What we don't want to do is scare away veterans. What we don't want to do is to scare away qualified nurses and physicians and other support staff. There continues to be an out-of-balance situation when it comes to nurse practitioners and physicians. That needs to be corrected."

Miller, Harper and Gaytan visited the VA regional office attached to the Jackson medical center, where they were told that the inventory of undecided claims has been reduced by 30 percent and the average age of a claim has fallen from 290 days in January 2013 to 196 days today. Harper said the Jackson visit by Miller was deeply appreciated, a step along the road to recovery for one VA facility whose problems were diagnosed early in what is threatening to become an epidemic.

“We want to make sure that now – and in the future – our veterans get the care they deserve,” Harper said.

 

 

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Gregory james

May 24, 2014 - 8:48pm

My first experience at the VA was horrible I was treatment like I was an idiot, now I Know the reason many Veterans go for care and never return to obtain healthcare.DO to this mismanagement many will never get treated, so sad.

MARY BRUNO

May 19, 2014 - 8:21pm

Just want you guys to know that I just sent the message below to these bureaucrats shown below. Some of you won't like my language or the implied language, sorry. I am just so furious over this -----! Makes me want to throw up. SEE BELOW & BELOW THAT. Thanks, Mary House to Vote on Legion-Supported VA Reform Bill Click or C&P on this^^^^^^ link to send a message to the idiots in Washington.^^^^^^^^^^^^^ THEY ARE VOTING ON THIS TOMORROW, MAY 21. Confirmation Your e-mail message was sent to: President Barack Obama (D) Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO 6th) powered by CQ Roll Call ©2014 PLEASE, not only do I want you to vote for this act, but you-ALL need to take action NOW to get help to the vets NOW!!! They cannot wait for someone else to do the right thing! Get money & resources to these guys/gals NOW so they can get to the doctor, get their tests, whatever they need!! !! NOT 6 MONTHS FROM NOW! If I had a lot of money, I would do it, but I cannot. I don't even have a job; laid off 1 year ago, Unempl is gone, Emergency Unempl is gone. OH, but we have the money to pay BONUSES to people who don't even DO THEIR JOB!! I am more than furious, that shit has got to stop NOW!!! NO MORE BONUSES PERIOD!!! THIS IS SICKENING. I never got a f------ bonus to do MY JOB!!! I never even got a F raise in 6 1/2 years of doing a GOOD job! My thanks? LAID OFF. But wait, there's more!! I was able to PAY TAXES on my Unemp benefits - and you ________ are paying BONUSES to these scum??? With MY money!!!??? NO MORE - I want to see Shinseki & all his "senior" people IN JAIL, DO YOU HEAR ME?? FOR MURDER!!!! AND TAXPAYER FRAUD. AND YOU ALL SHOULD GO TO JAIL FOR STEALING FROM US TAXPAYERS!!! I am writing to you today as a constituent and a veterans advocate to ask you to cosponsor and support the VA Management Accountability Act of 2014, introduced by Rep. Jeff Miller (FL) in the House (H.R. 4031) and Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) in the Senate (S.2013). As a veterans advocate, I expect the highest standards from the agency primarily tasked with serving the veterans entrusted to their care, the Department of Veterans Affairs. But when veterans see a Regional Office losing ground and wait times increasing in the fight to reduce the claims backlog, they grow frustrated when leadership continues as if nothing was wrong. When veterans see mismanagement practices in their healthcare system that put patient health at risk, veterans want to see leadership change to show a commitment from the top down that says their health and safety are the top priority of VA. The VA Management Accountability Act gives the Secretary of Veterans Affairs the tools he needs to help convey that message back to veterans and help ensure veterans have faith and trust in the systems designed to provide health care and other services to them and to care for their wounds of war. It's a proposal with bipartisan support and endorsed by numerous veterans' organizations, including The American Legion, AMVETS, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Concerned Veterans for America. I asked that you please ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs is well supported, well managed, and well funded so that it can carry out the mission of caring for those who have borne the battle. Thank you in advance for your support of our veterans, service members and their families. WIFE OF VIETNAM VET

Dr. Jerome Yelder, Sr.

May 15, 2014 - 6:00pm

The main problems with Veterans Affairs Medical Centers around the nation are Veterans are not always treated with respect by the Administrative Staff. I am a Service Connected Disabled Veteran with medals although they are not the ones mention in the media never the less I receiced them for Honorable Service while on Active Duty. I sure there other Veterans who also received medals as well. The point is there are far to many Veterans that don't have a voice that really recognize the real the concerns of Veterans because committees organized to represent Veterans do not choose from amongst the every day community leaders that serve in the communities without requiring media coverage. I would like volunteer for a purpose greater than myself.

timothy j blair

May 14, 2014 - 2:24pm

come to Seattle VA medical center and community living center also Tacoma American lake and others. now look at the parking problem

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