Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Common Sense Idea from VVA

From the good folks at the VVA comes this excellent idea for the Phoenix [and other] VA Hospital in the form of a press release about the resignation of the VA Secretary, Eric Shinseki:
May 30, 2014

VVA On the Resignation of Eric K. Shinseki

(Washington, D.C.)—"Eric K. Shinseki has tendered his resignation as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Sloan D. Gibson, Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, will serve as Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs," said VVA National President John Rowan. "However, this change in leadership does not fix the terrible situation at VA medical centers. The need for dramatic action is still pressing and apparent."

Said Rowan, "VVA urges the President to mobilize Reserve and National Guard units, as well as FEMA medical services, to supplement the uniformed units, to serve, for the next 30 to 90 days, as screening/triage units for all veterans currently on waiting lists at all VA Medical facilities. All veterans found to have urgent medical conditions are to be seen by a qualified VA clinician within three days of their screening. If the VA facility is unable to see the veteran within three days, the VA staff must arrange--and pay for--immediate care outside of the VA. Veterans not found in need of urgent care, who cannot be seen by the VA within 21 days, shall be assisted by VA staff to access an outside clinician under the VA fee-for-services program."

For a more complete list of vitally needed actions that can – and must – be taken by the President and Acting Secretary Gibson, see http://www.vva.org/VA_Phoenix.html

In a noon briefing, the President announced Shinseki's resignation. The President noted that Shinseki has acknowledged that the misconduct at the Phoenix VA is not limited to a few facilities but is rampant across the system, and he has accepted full responsibility for the conduct of those facilities. Further, reported the President, Shinseki acknowledged his continuation in office would serve as a distraction, interfering with his top priority of delivering care to our veterans who have served our nation.

Earlier today, while addressing the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Shinseki announced actions he had taken after reviewing the Interim IG Report regarding the Phoenix VA Health Care System. He reported that he had fired those responsible at the Phoenix VA and at other VA facilities; that no VHA senior executive will receive performance bonuses in 2014; that wait times will be deleted as measures of success; and that outreach to the veterans on the "secret" waiting lists is underway. Further, Shinseki called on Congress to fill the vacant positions at the VA. Said Rowan, "While we approve of these measures, there is much more that needs to be done."

In his tenure as seventh Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Shinseki's achievements on behalf of veterans include enrolling an additional 2 million veterans in the VA system; expanding benefits of Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange; improving access and care for Mental Health by ordering the hiring of 1,600 mental health staff; improving care for Women veterans; reducing homelessness; and helping millions access education benefits. "We thank him for his efforts, and wish him well in his future endeavors," said Rowan."
We think it an expedient and necessary thing to mobilize the Guard, Reserve and FEMA Medical services to help with the triage of some 1700 Veterans who were never scheduled for appointments at the Phoenix VA. 

Let's hope the President agrees and acts swiftly. 

VNVets

”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

"The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Obama Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln

"It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

Copyright © 2005-2014: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Tenth Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved. Reprinting or copying of the contents of this blog without the express permission of the author is unlawful.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Elegy: Bill Miltenberger, On Final Deployment

Farewell, shipmate.  The world has lost a valiant sailor, a fine leader, a solid family man, and a friend to all Veterans.  And we have all lost a friend.

In Psalm 107, at verse 23, we read:
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.
For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.
They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end.
Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.
Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.
He was, at times, friendly, gregarious, opinionated, curmudgeonly, but always, always, first in line to work for any Veteran or Veterans' rights.  He was a husband, father, and grandfather, friend, loyal shipmate, and one of the hardest working men I've ever known.  When there was a problem, he would be the first to step up.

When we could no longer work VASVW, we turned it over to Bill at his request because he believed it was work that needed to continue.   His time at the helm has run out. 

At a sailor's passing we sing the Navy Hymn, which reads:
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep,
Its own appointed limits keep.

Oh hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea! Amen.

Eternal Father, lend Thy grace To
those with wings who fly thro' space,
Thro wind and storm, thro' sun and rain,
Oh bring them safely home again.

Oh Father, hear an humble prayer,
For those in peril in the air! Amen.

Oh Trinity of love and pow'r,
Our brethren shield in danger's hour,
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them where so e'er they go.

Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea! Amen.
Bill was a leader.  His hard work in the face of the adversity of his cancer simply was awe-inspiring.  And quite simply, we could not have accomplished what we did without his Herculean efforts. 

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Act I, Scene ii, we read this song, sung by the character Ariel:
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell: Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.
Bill served almost four years on the USS Passumpsic AO 107.  During his years of active service on Passumpsic, the Fleet Oiler made 4 deployments to Vietnam.  By rights, he should have been granted exposure to Agent Orange.  It is a fight that still must be fought, and must be won. 

We ask that you  visit the following link to a website that will accept donations to help defray the costs of Bill's care: 

LINK TO DONATIONS PAGE  http://www.gofundme.com/95067c

In closing, we ask that you offer a prayer for Bill.

Ship’s Company: Attention on Deck!

Hand Salute!
   
Two!

Ding-dong.  Hark!  Now I hear them – Ding-dong, bell.

VNVets

”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

"The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Obama Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln

"It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

Copyright © 2005-2014: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Tenth Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved. Reprinting or copying of the contents of this blog without the express permission of the author is unlawful.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Legion Op-Ed: Shinseki Must Go

Here is National Commander of the American Legion Dan Dellinger's OP-Ed Piece which should appear in most newspaers in the coming days:

As national commander of the nation’s largest veterans service organization, it is with great sadness that I call for the resignations of Secretary Shinseki, Under Secretary  of Health Robert Petzel and Under Secretary of Benefits Allison Hickey.

The disturbing reports coming from the Phoenix VA Medical Center are just one of what appears to be a pattern of scandals that have infected the entire system. It has been more than 20 years since The American Legion has called for the resignation of a public official. It’s not something we do lightly.

We do this because of people who have been failed by the system.

James Pert served as a Marine in Vietnam. Diagnosed with skin cancer, diabetes and Post Traumatic Stress, he died as he waited for a medical appointment at the Phoenix VA Medical Center.

“How could they treat him so badly, when he served his country so honorably?” his widow, Sandy Pert, said to the International Business Times.

The interview came on the heels of a shocking CNN report that administrators at the hospital kept a secret waiting list, which included veterans waiting more than 200 days for an appointment. Not surprisingly, more than 40 veterans may have needlessly died while waiting. The other list – the one that was not kept secret, according to  Dr. Sam Foote –included only patients that would be seen in the next 15 days, a reasonable period intended to make executives look good and earn generous bonuses for the top brass.

More disturbing is that this is not isolated to the Grand Canyon State. More reports of “fixed” scheduling are coming from places like Fort Collins, Colo., and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

During my testimony to a congressional subcommittee last month, I mentioned reports of patients’ deaths at the Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Jackson, Miss., VA Medical Centers. While unconnected to phantom waiting lists, these deaths could also be classified as negligent.

But back to Mrs. Pert. She deserves an answer, just like all affected veterans and their loved ones deserve the very best care that this nation has to offer.

I have directed The American Legion System Worth Saving Task Force to conduct a townhall meeting at American Legion Post 41 in Phoenix on May 13. All those affected by VA’s reckless bureaucracy are welcome to attend. All are welcome to tell their stories on a new platform set up at www.legion.org.

The Legion System Worth Saving Task Force will follow the townhall meeting with a visit to the Phoenix VA Medical Center on May 14-15. As national commander of The American Legion, I was able to meet with President Obama in the Oval Office a few weeks ago. I expressed The American Legion’s strong concerns about service at the VA.

I also discussed the unacceptable benefits backlog and poor access to facilities with Shinseki. My staff has met with top VA officials. We have found the meetings far less than satisfactory and the answers not very forthcoming. In fact, the secretary didn’t seem to fully appreciate the seriousness of the situation and, at the time, didn’t feel anybody needed to be replaced. If it were a private institution or  if the executives were still in the military, they would be relieved of duty.

VA’s senior leaders didn’t seem to realize that one great tragedy of these delays and needless deaths is that they undeniably besmirch the compassionate work of thousands of dedicated VA employees and the outstanding care that many facilities provide. A few years ago, The American Legion was lauding the VA for its great care and we hope to do so again. Unfortunately, we do not see VA enacting the culture change that it so desperately needs with the current leadership in place. Senior VA leaders have isolated themselves from the media and, more importantly, from answering to their shareholders, America’s veterans.

We look forward to hearing the results of the VA Inspector General’s report and The American Legion welcomes Sen. Bernie Sanders’ intention to hold hearings based on the IG’s findings.

Like the mythical bird for which the city is named, the Phoenix VAMC needs to rise from the ashes of its bureaucratic ineptitude and provide the medical care worthy of the veterans it was built to serve.

As Mr. Pert’s widow told the IB Times, “We were married for 33 years. My heart is broken. I just can’t understand.”
Neither can we.

Although putting Phoenix VA director Sharon Helman and two other senior executives on administrative leave is a step in the right direction, VA clearly has a widespread problem that goes beyond the misbehavior of three people. Moreover, VA has been dragging its feet in dealing with the backlog of disability claims and modernizing its records.  The private sector would never tolerate such inefficiency and callousness.  Neither should veterans.
Source:
http://www.legion.org/documents/word/PhoenixVAOpedREVISED%20050514.doc

Well, as anyone in any Veterans Service Organization like the American Legion already knows, US Veterans are a low priority, and this starts in Congress, with attitudes that say Veterans are only important to us at election time, and who give lip-service most of the time when Veterans needs are pointed out to them.  Very, VERY few in Congress actually give a rat's patooty about Veterans.  VERY FEW.  Count them on one hand. 

It's election year, so they'll all tell you what a great friend they are to Veterans, and  then after the lies and the elections, they go back and vote down, or ignore hundreds of bills aimed at improving Veterans care. 

Look to Congress for allowing the VA to become to strong, and too powerful.   Look to Congress for allowing the Executive Branch to wield far too much power...yes the system of Checks and Balances is completely on its ear, with most power residing in the Executive Branch.  It will take a concerted effort on the part of the electorate, and the Judiciary, and Congress, to right that system.  Too much authority is now vested in the executive branch, and the VA is only one symptom of this much larger problem. 

VNVets

”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

"The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Obama Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln

"It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

Copyright © 2005-2014: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Tenth Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved. Reprinting or copying of the contents of this blog without the express permission of the author is unlawful.

Dellinger calls for VA secretary, 2 others to step down

The American Legion has been way out in front on this horrific issue, and it appears to be the straw that broke the camel's back.  Here is the latest on Legion Commander Dan Dellinger and his crusade against the VA's leadership failures:

In front of local media and a live Internet audience, American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger today called for the resignations of Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Under Secretary of Health Robert Petzel and Under Secretary of Benefits Allison Hickey.

Dellinger cited poor oversight and failed leadership as the reason for calling for the resignations – something The American Legion hasn’t done regarding a public official in more than 30 years.

“Gen. Eric Shinseki has served his country well,” Dellinger said. “His patriotism and sacrifice for this nation are above reproach. However, his record as the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs tells a different story. The existing leadership has exhibited a pattern of bureaucratic incompetence and failed leadership that has been amplified in recent weeks.”

Dellinger pointed to allegations from multiple whistleblowers of a secret waiting list at the Phoenix VA Health Care System that may have resulted in the death of approximately 40 veterans, that VA previously had acknowledged that 23 veterans throughout the health-care system have died as a result of delayed care in recent years, and a the findings of an investigation by VA’s Office of Medical Inspector that clerks at the VA clinic in Fort Collins, Colo., were instructed last year how to falsify appointment records so it appeared the small staff of doctors was seeing patients within the agency's goal of 14 days, according to the investigation.

“These disturbing reports are part of what appear to be a pattern of scandals that has infected the entire system,” said Dellinger, noting issues that have come up in Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Augusta, Ga. “Those problems need addressed at the highest level – starting with new leadership. The existing leadership has exhibited a pattern of bureaucratic incompetence and failed leadership that has been amplified in recent weeks.”

Dellinger said that the failure to disclose safety information or to cover up mistakes is unforgivable – as is fostering a culture of nondisclosure. “VA leadership has demonstrated its incompetence through preventable deaths of veterans, long wait times for medical care, a benefits claims backlog numbering in excess of 596,000, and the awarding of bonuses to senior executives who have overseen such operations,” he said. “Some veterans have waited years to have their claims decided. That same leadership has failed to provide answers to why these issues continue to occur.”

Dellinger said that while errors and lapses can occur in any system, “The American Legion expects when such errors and lapses are discovered, that they are dealt with swiftly and that the responsible parties are held accountable. This has not happened at the Department of Veterans Affairs. There needs to be a change, and that change needs to occur at the top. “

When asked by media what the Legion would do if the trio didn’t resign, Dellinger said a draft of the request was being sent to the White House. “This is a very serious situation,” he said. “The administration needs to take steps now. It’s long overdue. Whenever you’re talking about a patient’s life – a veteran’s life – in jeopardy, it’s always serious.”

Dellinger also wrote an op-ed piece calling for the resignations. Read it here.
Source:
http://www.legion.org/veteranshealthcare/221974/dellinger-calls-va-secretary-2-others-step-down 

We will post it shortly. 

VNVets

”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

"The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Obama Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln

"It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

Copyright © 2005-2014: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Tenth Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved. Reprinting or copying of the contents of this blog without the express permission of the author is unlawful.

Friday, May 02, 2014

More News from Phoenix VAMC

More news from Phoenix, courtesy of the good folks at the National Association for Uniformed Services from their NAUS Weekly Update.

Here are their two items on the horrific news from the VAMC in Phoenix:
"Second Phoenix VA Doctor Blows Whistle Late on Sunday night, VA Dr. Katherine Mitchell said she received a phone call from a fellow employee at the Phoenix VA hospital who needed advice on how to handle a sensitive situation.

Her co-worker explained that records were being destroyed that very moment in the Phoenix VA Health Care System.  But he had preserved evidence of what he believed were falsified wait times for medical care.  The purported "secret lists," along with accusations that up to 40 Arizona veterans died awaiting care, are the subject of national controversy and investigations by Congress and the VA Inspector General.

Mitchell was a confidante with experience — nearly 16 years at the VA hospital, first as a nurse who became supervising physician in the emergency room, then as medical director over a transition program for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

She said her colleague explained that the documents were being destroyed that evening. Aware that the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs had issued orders for the VA to preserve documents at the medical center in Phoenix, the two agreed to protect evidence.

Mitchell said she went to the medical center and walked her co-worker to VA police headquarters, where they asked officers to secure the documentation.  Police declined, Mitchell said, but suggested they find a safe place to conceal the materials inside the hospital.
To read the entire article from the Arizona Republic newspaper click here.  The allegations in the article are shocking to say the least.  The VA will have a lot of explaining to do if in fact the allegations are proven. 

VA Secretary Places Top Staff at Phoenix VA Medical Center on Administrative Leave Growing intensity of allegations that up to 40 patients died because of delays in medical care at a Phoenix VA hospital, forced Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on Thursday to place the hospital director and two other officials on administrative leave pending a full investigation.

Shinseki took the steps a day after his top health official told Congress there was no evidence so far that patients died awaiting care at the Phoenix facility, nor that records of delayed appointments were falsified.

Shinseki issued a statement late Thursday saying that "we take these allegations very seriously" and that pending results from a VA inspector general investigation, Phoenix hospital Director Sharon Helman, Associate Director Lance Robinson and a third hospital employee were being placed on administrative leave.

"We believe it is important to allow an independent, objective review to proceed. These allegations, if true, are absolutely unacceptable and if the inspector general's investigation substantiates these claims, swift and appropriate action will be taken," Shinseki said.

Dr. Robert Petzel, VA undersecretary for health, told the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs Wednesday that an initial review had found no basis for the allegations."

Why are we not surprised that they had "found no basis for the allegations?"

VNVets

”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

"The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Obama Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln

"It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

Copyright © 2005-2014: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Tenth Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved. Reprinting or copying of the contents of this blog without the express permission of the author is unlawful.