In recent weeks, new charges have come to the fore that wait-times for visits and treatment in parts of the Veterans Affairs medical system are far longer than its stated goal of 14 days; records are being falsified; and deaths have resulted. In fact, these recent charges come atop a pattern going back years, associated with the deliberate contraction of the U.S. military and veteran medical system done under George W. Bush, and continued under Obama.
All the while, the Bush/Obama Administrations have sent millions of young men and women to Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, and elsewhere to danger, disability and death, on behalf of London’s war policy.
Now, the VA medical system cannot provide timely care for the 6.5 million active VA enrollees. The process is directly parallel to the 2010 Accountable Care Act, in which you sign up, then don’t get care.
Shinseki Testifies To Senate Veterans Affairs On Appointments Scandal
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki went before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Thursday morning, to answer questions about the appointments scandal and about VA health care in general. The members of the committee were unified in their outrage at allegations that veterans may be dying because they’re unable to access the VA health-care system. “[W]ith the numerous GAO, IG and Office of Medical Inspector reports that have been released, VA senior leadership, including the secretary, should have been aware that VA was facing a national scheduling crisis,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). “VA’s leadership has either failed to connect the dots or failed to address this ongoing crisis which has resulted in patient harm and in patient death.” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) noted that the allegations from Phoenix are not new issues. “They are deep, system-wide problems and they grow more concerning every day,” she said, and she pointed to a long series of IG and GAO reports dating back to 2000 showing showing problems with the appointment system, resulting lengthy waiting periods, especially for mental health appointments. “Clearly, this problem has gone on far too long,” she said. “It is unfortunate that these leadership failures have dramatically shaken many veterans’ confidence in this system.”
Committee chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was more cautious, urging members and the public to avoid a rush to judgment, but in his questioning of Shinseki, he was clearly irritated by what Burr and Murray both pointed to, that the problem of waiting times for appointments has been around for so long, has been repeatedly cited by various investigations, and yet it hasn’t gotten any better.
One indication that there might be something more than just bureaucratic malfeasance going on at the VA came from Burr, who reported that Dr. Robert Petzel, the Undersecretary for Health who was seated next to Shinseki, held a conference with a rather large group of senior VA officials on May 5, in which he said that Shinseki’s removal of the Phoenix VA medical director “political,” and that “she’s done nothing wrong,” a statement he allegedly made despite the fact of the ongoing IG investigation. Shinseki could only say that he was not aware of the phone call and that he would look into it.
For his part, Shinseki told the committee that he had initiated a “face-to-face” audit of the VA’s appointment system, review appointments at every single one of the VA’s 152 medical centers and that the VA Inspector General has initiated an investigation of the Phoenix medical center, where 40 veterans are alleged to have died while waiting for appointments. He otherwise promised to get to the bottom of the scandal and to fix the problems, though such statements have little credibility given the history of investigations and the lack of action following them.
What’s called for is the removal of Obama from office. Some are calling for sacking Gen. Eric Shinseki, Secretary of the VA; Shinseki himself has recently suspended three top VA officials in Phoenix, Arizona. He has commissioned a VA Inspector General investigation. Whatever Shinseki, a fervent advocate for the military and former Army Chief of Staff, failed to do, is a direct result of his boss, Obama. Obama is the London flunky-in-charge, who is responsible for the killer policy.
The dramatic contraction in the network of U.S. military base and Veterans Affairs facilities saw two major waves of closures of infrastructure, with a net loss of capacity, all the while that the Cheney/Bush/Obama war machine was in full gear, grinding up millions of lives.
BRAC. In 2005, was the initiation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s “BRAC” plan—Base Realignment and Closing” process, which eventuated in the selective closure and/or sell-off of 33 major sites, and 775 smaller installations, several of which were associated with medical capacity, e.g. Walter Reed Hospital. The criteria for being listed as “major” was whether the replacement value exceeded $100 million per facility! E.g., the nuclear naval complex in Groton, Connecticut was on the BRAC list!
CARES In 2004, the “CARES”—Capital Asset Alignment for Advanced Services was initiated by the Cheney Veterans Affairs Department. The PriceWaterhouse accounting firm was hired to list which facilities in the VA national grid—of 154 hospitals, 900 clinics, and 200 other facilities—would be targets for sell-off to capitalize on the “real estate potential” for each medical campus. Many VA hospitals were prime downtown real estate sites. CARES was implemented, with drastic losses in the national VA grid.
Thousands of VA staff and services are reliable, life-saving and respectful. But under Obama, the policy at the top is to cause harm and destruction.
Among the latest reports are the following.
ARIZONA A whistle-blower, Dr. Sam Foote, charges that at the Phoenix Veterans Medical Center, the management had a secret list of between 1,400 and 1,600 veterans awaiting appointments—some for many months, while a fake list was forwarded to Washington and Congressional overseers, which fraudulently showed that the facility had been making appointments within the 14-day period. Foote estimates that at least 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments to see a primary care physician.
Even before the Phoenix story broke, the VA had admitted that at least 23 patients died of gastrointestinal cancer and dozens of others were injured, all because of delays in getting appointments.
TEXAS A whistleblower, Dr. Richard Krugman, charges that at the VA Health Care System in Harlingen, colonoscopies have been delayed, to the point of risking Stage 4 cancer. “That was done because of dollars and cents. For the VA, they have to be bleeding out of their rectum before they would authorize a colonoscopy. That was the standard of care,” he told the Washington Examiner (May 12). Krugman reckons as many as 15,000 veterans were affected by this policy; many have likely died. If they didn’t die in a VA hospital—the nearest one being four hours drive away, in San Antonio—they don’t show up on VA records, Dr. Krugman reported.
NATIONWIDE In December 2012, the Government Accountability Office issued a report in looking at four VA facilities—Washington, D.C., Harrison, Mont., Dayton, Ohio, and Los Angeles, Calif., which found that schedulers at these four facilities had been sidestepping the electronic appointment system, by tracking appointments on paper and not entering them into the electronic system until they were within the 14-day window. Numerous reports on the problem date back to at least the year 2000 and it hasn’t been solved.
DOD Falsifying Records To Deny Soldiers Post-Discharge Medical Benefits
While the Veterans Affairs (VA) scandal is the one on the front pages, the Defense Department, which is supposed to be working very closely with the VA to smooth the transition process of service members from active duty to veteran status, stands accused of its own misconduct. Robert Alvarez and Andrew Pogany, two veterans’ advocates (and both veterans themselves) based in Denver, Colorado, filed a lawsuit on May 12, charging Army officials at Fort Carson, Colo. with unreasonably barring them from access to their clients—soldiers facing adverse discharges for medical and psychological reasons—and falsifying their medical records to give them less than honorable discharges and thus denying them post-discharge medical benefits from the DOD and the VA.
Alvarez and Pogany are the COO and CEO, respectively, of the Uniformed Services Justice and Advocacy Group and have been providing investigative, forensic and advocacy services to soldiers facing administrative and judicial proceedings and assistance in securing their service-connected benefits. This includes obtaining accurate diagnoses and disability ratings so that they may receive health-care benefits after discharge from military service. The majority of their clients suffer from acute mental illness from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and so are often not fully capable of understanding the proceedings to which they are subject.
According to the lawsuit, Alvarez and Pogany began identifying a pattern of the Army increasing its use of administrative discharge procedures in order to expel soldiers for misconduct when, in reality, they suffered from TBI, PTSD or other injuries (including addiction to medications that were prescribed to them) which was what was responsible for their misconduct. When Alvarez and Pogany came into conflict with Fort Carson officials about these cases, they reported the disputes to the Army Surgeon General, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army and to the relevant Congressional Committees, and they also requested Army investigations of physicians and commanders at Fort Carson who were interfering with their clients’ medical evaluation and treatment.
On Nov. 5, 2012, Alvarez and Pogany were barred from access to Fort Carson, and thus were denied access to many of their clients, to medical and other officials on the post whom they needed to interact with in order to gain information about their clients’ cases, and to court martial and other legal proceedings involving their clients. The garrison commander claimed that they were “disruptive to the good order and discipline of the installation,” though no evidence was ever produced to substantiate that charge. According to the complaint, they were then falsely accused of deceitful conduct in an effort to undermine the work they were doing for soldiers who were facing a less than honorable characterization of their service and the ensuing loss of benefits.
Though the complaint doesn’t say so, the restriction of Alvarez and Pogany from access to their clients is actually risking great harm to those soldiers. If a soldier cannot gain access to psychological and medical services that he or she needs as a result of their military service, he or she is likely to be at greater risk of committing suicide, a risk that otherwise might be mitigated or prevented altogether.
The lead defendant in the lawsuit is Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, who was the commander of Fort Carson in 2012, before he was reassigned to Fort Bragg as the commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps. Anderson is currently in Afghanistan, serving as the ISAF joint commander, second only to ISAF commander Gen. Joseph Dunford. Before he left Fort Bragg, Anderson was accused of exercising unlawful command influence in the sexual assault case of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, by none other than the military judge in that case, himself.
Pogany told EIR by phone on May 14, that the purpose of this Army behavior, which he characterized as “reprehensible” and “criminal,” is to get rid of these soldiers and to deny them their benefits. He said this goes back to at least 2011, but really dates back to 2006. Pogany does not make any allegations with respect to cases that he has not worked on, but he noted that the Army is under tremendous pressure to slash its budget, and to get rid of people.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and other senior leaders of the department have made it clear that personnel and health-care costs are their number-one target for meeting the budgetary targets, stemming from the insane budget sequestration and other related shenanigans. Weapons programs are protected, but “If you get rid of individuals, no one will connect the dots,” Pogany said.
The Army is on track to eliminate 30,000 soldiers between now and the end of fiscal year 2015. To do this, they’re going after the “low hanging fruit,” first, that is, those who are psychologically compromised. If they’re discharged under less than honorable conditions, they get no medical discharge and no VA benefits. People who are at risk of suicide are dumped into the civilian population without access to treatment, where then local authorities have to deal with the consequences.