Category Archives: Dept. of Veterans Affairs

Suspended VA bosses to return to agency jobs next week

Only in a government job can you majorly screw up, receive a paid leave, and then return to your position.
You would think that these employees would have some kind of remorse. You would think.
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AZCentral.com reports that Lance Robinson and Brad Curry, two Department of Veterans Affairs administrators in Phoenix, will return to work Monday, 19 months after they were put on paid leave and given termination notices. They were suspended at the outset of a crisis over delayed patient care.
Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) Legislative and Political Director Dan Caldwell said the VA “has shown that it does not take accountability, or Congress, seriously” by allowing Robinson and Curry to return to work. He said the message sent to the public is that the agency is protecting its own instead of helping veterans.
Robinson and Curry have declined interview requests since they were placed on suspension. Since May 2014, they’ve received hundreds of thousands of dollars in pay and benefits while not working.
Robinson and Curry were the subject of internal probes to determine their “knowledge, involvement and culpability” in patient-scheduling fraud and retaliation against whistleblowers.
Read all of the disgusting details here.
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VA doesn't have 'legal authority' to require executives to return $400K they received in job transfer scam

Earlier this month I told you about how The Department of Veterans Affairs reportedly paid out more than $142 million in performance bonuses in 2014 despite a string of scandals inside the agency.
The bonuses continued even after former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who resigned last year amid the scandal over falsified wait-times, suspended certain bonuses. But that move only restricted bonuses for senior execs in the embattled Veterans Health Administration. 
The VA continued to pay bonuses to other workers in other departments, including those facing their own controversies. 
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Now the AP is reporting this wonderful news:
The Department of Veterans Affairs will not try to recoup more than $400,000 from two senior VA executives who manipulated the hiring system to get their jobs of choice and received hundreds of thousands in extra money to relocate.
The most transparent administration evah has remained silent on questions about its decision to demote and transfer but not fire executives Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves, and whether it would collect repayment of those relocation benefits.

Photo from disabledveterans.org

Photo from disabledveterans.org


On Sept. 28, 2015, the VA Inspector General’s office issued a report finding that Rubens and Graves had “inappropriately used their positions of authority for personal and financial benefit” by arranging the transfer of subordinates whose jobs they wanted and then volunteering to fill the vacancies.
When asked about the determination by the Office of General Counsel and whether criminal charges would be referred against Rubens and Graves, the Office of Inspector General said, “We do not have information that is responsive to your questions,” and deferred questions of possible prosecution to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Neither that office nor the Department of Justice immediately responded to a query on the issue.
“This move is an insult to veterans and taxpayers, who are left footing the bill,” Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who chairs the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, said in a statement Tuesday.

Curtis Kalin, spokesman for the nonprofit Citizens Against Government Waste, said the VA’s systemic problems “not only hurt taxpayers, but cost some veterans their lives.”

Read the all pathetic details here.

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Navy vet’s death blamed on contaminated VA medical scopes

Wonder if anyone at this VA facility received a bonus for their “talent“?
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The following will come as no surprise given the scandals accumulated by the VA under the Obama administration. See examples of the mishandling of our veterans’ health care here, here, here and here.
The mistreatment of our veterans is also occurring in Seattle. In early October I reported on how dozens of West Coast military veterans incorrectly received letters indicating they’d lose unemployment benefits after an overworked Department of Veterans Affairs office in Seattle lost track of records the veterans had submitted.
In May of this year, the Seattle VA hospital stranded a veteran outside the emergency room. Donald Siefken drove up to the Seattle VA with a broken foot and all he asked for was a little help getting inside. Instead, a hospital employee who answered Siefken’s cellphone call told him to call 911 himself, then hung up on him, Siefken said.

Chief Petty Officer William Piersawl/Photo Courtesy Samantha Armenta

Chief Petty Officer William Piersawl/Photo Courtesy Samantha Armenta


Now comes news of how the VA Puget Sound Health Care System may have contributed to the death of veteran William Piersawl. This may have been attributed to the a deadly infection he obtained with ties to dirty medical scopes and to scope-washing machines ordered recalled last week by U.S. regulators because of increased risk to patients.
That’s according to an amended lawsuit awaiting approval Monday in U.S. District Court in Western Washington, which raises new questions about ongoing problems with so-called “superbug” outbreaks in Seattle and across the nation.
William Piersawl, 60, was a 25-year Navy veteran and died in February 2013 of Gram-negative pneumonia, an infection resistant to most available antibiotics. Secondary causes included sepsis and lung cancer, his death certificate showed. His widow, Carolyn Piersawl filed a complaint earlier this year claiming that the VA Puget Sound Health Care System contributed to his death by failing to properly sterilize bronchoscopes, medical devices used to examine the lungs.
During his treatment from 2009 to 2012, Piersawl received at least two exams with bronchoscopes that had not been disinfected according to manufacturers’ instructions, leaving them “dirty after supposed sterilization,” potentially contaminated with bacteria that could have led to the infection that caused his death, according to the complaint. His widow said, “He didn’t deserve this”. The couple were married for 34 years and have three children and two grandchildren.
There was a whistleblower at the Puget Sound VA who reported on the filthy procedures being practiced at the VA facility. Barbara Deymonaz, 63, a registered nurse who worked as a nurse educator in the sterile processing unit at the Puget Sound VA from 2012 to 2013, said she complained multiple times to federal officials about lapses in procedure that put patients at risk. “Every rock you turned over, it was just a mess,” she said.
Of course, VA officials have denied all allegations in the Piersawl lawsuit. VA spokesman Ndidi Mojay said the agency cannot comment on pending litigation. A 2013 investigation by the VA Office of the Inspector General didn’t find any problems that left instruments unsterile or placed patients at risk.
But Piersawl’s case underscores concerns about deadly infections potentially transmitted by improperly cleaned medical scopes. Last year, an outbreak of multidrug-resistant infections tied to contaminated duodenoscopes — devices used to examine the gut — was linked to 39 patients at Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center. Eighteen patients affected by the outbreak died, although the role the infections played isn’t clear. The outbreak prompted the hospital to overhaul the way it cleans and tests the devices, resulting in no further infections, a hospital spokesman said.
In August, VA officials released results of an investigation that found that superbug infections may have occurred at VA sites across the nation, although the risk was very low. The analysis of 40,000 patient records concluded “any transmission appears highly unlikely.” But problems with duodenoscopes at hospitals across the nation prompted the FDA to issue new guidelines for cleaning the devices — and new warnings about potential problems with other types of scopes as well.
Between January 2010 and June 2015, the agency received 109 reports concerning infections or device contamination related to the bronchoscopes. No deaths were reported. The agency emphasized that proper “reprocessing” or cleaning of such devices is crucial.
It’s not clear what specific bacteria caused Piersawl’s Gram-negative pneumonia, which was listed as his primary cause of death. No culture results were reported in his records and the scopes used to treat him weren’t cultured, either. The lawsuit is set for trial next summer, said Jessica Holman Duthie, a Tacoma lawyer who filed the complaint.
Read the whole story at the Seattle Times here.
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VA reportedly paid $142M in bonuses last year

Warning: The following will dramatically increase your blood pressure.
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Fox News: The Department of Veterans Affairs reportedly paid out more than $142 million in performance bonuses in 2014 despite a string of scandals inside the agency. USA Today reported that the bonuses ranged as high as $12,705, and most were over $500.
The bonuses continued even after former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who resigned last year amid the scandal over falsified wait-times, suspended certain bonuses. But that move only restricted bonuses for senior execs in the embattled Veterans Health Administration. 
The VA continued to pay bonuses to other workers in other departments, including those facing their own controversies. 
According to USA Today, the VA gave bonuses — from $4,000 to $8,000 — to executives overseeing the construction of an overdue and over-budget Denver facility.
Managers at a Wisconsin office also got bonuses between $1,000 and $4,000 despite findings the office was over-prescribing opiates. And some employees in the VHA have continued to receive bonuses.
A total of 156,000 workers reportedly got them for performance in 2014. 
Speaking Wednesday morning with Fox News, VA Secretary Robert McDonald did not address the bonuses but touted improvements at the agency since the wait-time scandal was exposed last year. He said wait-times are down to five days for specialty care; four days for primary care; and three days for mental health care. Further, he said, the disability claims backlog is down 88 percent. “We have work to do,” McDonald acknowledged.
According to USA Today, a VA spokesman defended the bonuses as important for attracting talent. “VA will continue to review tools and options in order to ensure the department is able to attract and retain the best talent to serve our nation’s veterans, while operating as a good steward of taxpayer funds,” spokesman James Hutton told the newspaper.
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Most U.S. troops, vets would steer kids away from service

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Washington Examiner: Less than half of those polled in an annual survey of troops, veterans and military families would encourage their children to join the military, according to a report released Thursday.
The Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey polled almost 6,300 people earlier this year to find the biggest issues facing military families. Between increasing uncertainty about benefits, expensive moves and difficulty finding employment for spouses and vets, only 45 percent of respondents said they would recommend military service to their own child.
“Military families are increasingly doubting if they’d like to wish this same life on their children,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a national security analyst at the Brookings Institution. “It’s an awareness of how hard it can be.” A higher number — 57 percent — would recommend military service to a young person close to them who is not their own child.

Brad Carson, appointed by Obama

Brad Carson, appointed by Obama


Brad Carson, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said this statistic is especially troubling given that more than 80 percent of those who join today have a family member who served. “One of the most concerning things is this is a family business we’re in, increasingly so,” he said, noting that the poll results will make a difficult recruiting environment even worse.
Military spouses, current service members and veterans all listed military benefits and retirement reform as the top two most concerning issues, according the report. More than 40 percent said “uncertainty in military life” was the top obstacle to their families feeling financially stable.
There was also a lack of trust between those polled and the government, as nearly half said they do not feel confident they will get the benefits they were promised upon their retirement.
Carson promised to communicate better with troops and families to keep them up-to-date and make sure they understand why and how their benefits will change under new laws. “We have made some significant changes to retirement. These are not changes always understood by even the most financially literate people,” Carson acknowledged.
The military is transitioning to a 401k-like retirement system, which will enable the majority of troops who do not serve 20 years to leave service with some retirement benefits. The new system will enable those who join in 2018 or later to pay into a retirement account with government matching. Those who are already retired or currently serving will be grandfathered into the old system, something Carson acknowledges all troops and their families may not understand.
The high number of moves and the expense of moving that military families experience also plays a role in dissatisfaction with military life. Nearly three-quarters of families said they incurred “unexpected expenses” as a result of the military lifestyle, and 60 percent have moved three or more times within the continental U.S., the report found.
A high operational tempo also places strains on relationships with spouses and children, the report said. Sixty percent of service members spent more than a year deployed since Sept. 11. Half said families said their children experienced “moderate or greater worry” as a result of a parent’s deployment, and 21 percent experienced “relationship” challenges in just the past year because of worry about future deployments.
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In addition to these struggles, the majority of troops and families who were polled don’t feel as if the country appreciates what they go through. Ninety percent of respondents feel the general public doesn’t really understand the sacrifices made by service members and their families, the report found.
H/t MomOfIV
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VA fires veteran for talking to Congress

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Washington Examiner: After a disabled VA employee and Army veteran reached out to Congress for help locating his lost benefits folder, the VA fired him out of retaliation.
Bradie Frink, a clerk at the VA’s regional office in Baltimore, had written a letter to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., in Feb. 2013 when the agency misplaced Frink’s benefits folder. Two weeks later, his superiors moved to fire him for alleged misconduct, despite having no concerns about Frink’s performance prior to his congressional complaint.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) announced Tuesday that Frink had been wrongfully terminated following his attempt to get help from Mikulski’s office. Because the VA could not find Frink’s file, the agency had stopped making certain payments to his family, according to the OSC report.
“No veteran who has fought for America should have to fight the backlog of bureaucracy to get the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve,” Mikulski told the Washington Examiner. “And no federal employee should fear retaliation for seeking assistance from their elected representatives. I will continue to fight for federal employees as hard as federal employees fight on the front lines each and every day for America.”
Frink’s case is just the latest in a series of firings and demotions doled out by the VA to employees who blow the whistle on internal misconduct. Whistleblowers have faced retaliation for reporting doctored appointment lists, shoddy patient care and even sexual harassment.

Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner

Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner


Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner told Congress in July that OSC has more than 300 active VA whistleblower retaliation cases across 43 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, with roughly 100 of those cases involving reports of patient health or safety. “In 2014 and 2015 to date, OSC has secured either full or partial relief 99 times for VA employees who filed whistleblower retaliation complaints, including 66 in fiscal year 2015 alone,” Lerner testified before the Senate Committee on Appropriations on July 30.
In Frink’s case, the OSC found all three officials involved in his termination “had a clear motive to retaliate against him.” At the time of Frink’s complaint to Congress, his Baltimore office was already under public scrutiny due to its poor handling of veterans’ claims.
Other whistleblowers have been stripped of their responsibilities after reporting wrongdoing within the agency. For example, Troy Thompson, a food services manager in Philadelphia’s VA hospital, was demoted to the role of a janitor in 2012 and forced to work in the morgue after reporting a pest infestation in the hospital kitchen.
Thompson’s supervisor claimed Thompson was stripped of his managerial duties after being placed under investigation for eating four expired sandwiches from the cafeteria that were together worth $5.
Ryan Honl, a secretary at the Tomah, Wis., VA facility, was physically locked out of his own office and isolated from his coworkers after alerting the agency’s inspector general that doctors at the clinic were allegedly prescribing an excessive amount of opiates to patients.
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VA claims backlog, signature problem frustrate valley Air Force veteran

Shameful that we treat out veterans this way.
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Review Journal: If you’re a veteran like Willie L. Smith and you want to ask Veterans Benefits Administration Service Center Manager Allen Bittler in Reno about the delay in processing your disability claim and where it stands in the backlog, well good luck.
“A. Bittler,” as his name appears in bold-faced type on the bottom of the form letter that Smith received March 30, hasn’t worked at the agency’s Reno regional office since he retired nearly two years ago.
Yet Smith and other Nevada veterans received decision letters this year from Bittler, or in Smith’s case, the one that begins, “We are still processing your application for COMPENSATION.”
Smith, a 30-year career Air Force veteran from North Las Vegas, wants to know why Bittler has sent him three letters long after the former VA employee retired. More importantly, he wants to know why a year has passed and he hasn’t received a disability rating decision when the Department of Veteran Affairs recently announced that the wait time for rating decisions was down to 95 days from 357 days at the peak of the backlog in February 2013.
“All I want is a final determination,” said Smith, who receives VA health care for other disabilities but filed a claim for his heart condition and spinal, neck and shoulder injuries on Sept. 24, 2014. “Based on what they’re saying about 95 days, why isn’t mine resolved?” he asked.
VA officials don’t comment on individual cases without a Privacy Act release. But a spokesman for the Veterans Benefits Administration’s in Reno said the office in March “identified a computer glitch that continued to use Mr. Bittler’s name on some outgoing correspondence.” The spokesman, Nathanial Miller, said Rashetta D. Smith replaced Bittler in April. Decision letters that contain Bittler’s signature after he retired are valid, he said.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., who is a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said she was alerted about the incorrect signature problem by veterans in her district in April and promptly sent a letter to Allison Hickey, undersecretary of Veterans Affairs for benefits.
“This problem has been fixed,” she said Thursday, citing a reply from Hickey stating that both local and national systems needed updates. On May 15, the correct signature was included in the VA’s national system, according to Hickey’s reply.
Claims backlog improves, but …
As for the backlog issue, VA officials announced Aug. 25 that the initial claims backlog count had dipped below 100,000 nationwide, an 84 percent reduction since the peak in March 2013. At the Reno regional office, which handles claims from veterans across Nevada and part of California, the backlog was down to 479 from the peak of 8,536 in February.
But while the initial claims backlog has decreased at the Reno office, appeals have increased over the past year, based on an analysis by Bergmann & Moore, a national law firm that handles veterans’ benefits cases exclusively.
The latest figures, compiled by the firm’s Kelly Kennedy, show initial claims and appeals are approaching even at the Reno office, 3,628 and 2,741, respectively as of Aug. 24. Last year on Aug. 4, those numbers stood at 5,883 and 1,615, respectively. “It’s hard to help but think that these cases could have been resolved correctly in the first place,” Kennedy wrote in an email.
Elsewhere, veterans appeals cases outnumber initial claims in Baltimore, Chicago, Phoenix, Atlanta and Portland, Ore.
Titus has been concerned about a “tsunami” of appeals creating another backlog problem. “I’ve been saying this for over a year. If you squeeze a balloon in one place, the air pops up somewhere else,” she said. Titus says VA officials note that the percentage of appeals cases is not increasing but the number of appeals is.
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who is a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said in a statement Thursday, “As my office has worked on casework for both initial claims and appeals for veterans, I have always stressed to the VA that this is not just about timeliness, it is also about quality. Even a small mistake can wrap a veteran up in the appeals process for years,” Heller said. “That is why I continue to hold the Reno VARO accountable to the quality of its work and will continue to stress that expectation when new leadership takes over in late September.”
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VA official: McDonald silent after warning of billions misspent

Bob McDonald

Bob McDonald


Stars and Stripes: The head of procurement at the Department of Veterans Affairs said Thursday that Secretary Bob McDonald never contacted him after a warning in March that the agency is misspending billions of dollars each year.
Jan Frye

Jan Frye

Jan Frye, deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics, detailed to House lawmakers how he blew the whistle on the agency’s questionable credit card purchases and how VA officials testifying along with him planned in advance to hide the wrongdoing.

The VA was hit with its newest scandal just before the hearing Thursday when a March letter written by Frye to McDonald was made public. It unveiled that at least $5 billion and as much as $10 billion each year in employee credit card purchases were made without contracts and in violate of federal procurement rules.

“I have not had any response from the secretary’s office,” Frye testified to a Veterans Affairs subcommittee. He said an assistant to McDonald and Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson confirmed both had received the letter.

Frye also told members of a House Armed Services subcommittee that VA leadership, including its chief financial officer and its chief procurement officer for the department’s health care system, were testifying Thursday in hopes of obscuring the purchase practices.

“We hope you won’t ask us any questions that will force us to tell you about the important pieces we’ve premeditatedly left out,” he testified. “If you happen to ask us about what we’ve failed to tell you, we hope we can answer your questions in such a way as to quickly extinguish potential follow-on questions. In short, obfuscation is our game.”

About 23,000 VA employees have credit cards designed to streamline smaller purchases, but the cards were also used to buy health care and medical devices such as prosthetics without required contracts, which opens the agency up to overpayments, defective products and fraud, according to Frye.

Frye said he wrote to McDonald in March after years of pressing the agency to clean up purchases. The secretary was confirmed by Congress last summer to revive the VA from its biggest scandal — the manipulation of patient wait times at veterans hospitals across the country — and has often spoke publicly about the value of whistleblowers.

Edward Murray, acting VA assistant secretary for management and the interim CFO, testified to the House subcommittee that he had never seen Frye’s letter to McDonald before Thursday. “I just found out about this letter this morning,” he testified. Some of Frye’s claims had recently been discussed by a working group within the VA, Murray said.

He agreed that the VA needs to do more and said that McDonald is also working to change the culture in the agency, which is one of the federal government’s largest bureaucracies. “I believe I am working with him, and me and my staff are working our very utmost to make the staff more accountable and transparent,” Murray said.

He said the agency has made “tremendous strides” in fixing its long-troubled purchase card program, including a list of improvements after a scathing audit by the VA inspector general last year that found 15,600 potentially unauthorized card purchases worth $85.6 million.

The testimony raised the ire of some lawmakers. “I guess I’m dumbfounded,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. “You’re here to speak for the VA … and you’ve never seen the allegations” in Frye’s letter.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., chairman of the House subcommittee, said the VA attempted to block Frye from testifying in “yet another attempt to avoid responding in a fully open and candid manner” but relented at the last moment.

Coffman said the agency wanted to only send Murray, who has been in his position for about two months and does not have a full grasp of the long-term purchase card problems.

The VA purchase card program has been troubled by a lack of oversight since the 1990s, according to various audits, but the claims by Frye would be a massive increase in misuse over the past five years, a period when agency purchases more than doubled.

“I hope VA is embarrassed and ashamed about the way they treat people who try to bring problems forward,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the full Veterans Affairs Committee. “I am tired of hearing the same thing over and over and over again. Nothing is changing regardless of what leadership is telling this committee.”

Embarrassed and ashamed?

Embarrassed and ashamed?

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Seattle VA hospital strands veteran outside ER

Donald Siefken is a 64-year-old Army veteran from Kennewick. Earlier this year he showed up at the Seattle VA Hospital, but couldn't get its staff to help him inside and had to call 911.

Donald Siefken is a 64-year-old Army veteran from Kennewick. Earlier this year he showed up at the Seattle VA Hospital, but couldn’t get its staff to help him inside and had to call 911. Seattle Times Photo


Seattle Times: When Donald Siefken drove up to the Seattle VA hospital emergency room earlier this year with a broken foot, all he asked for was a little help getting inside. Instead, a hospital employee who answered Siefken’s cellphone call told him to call 911 himself, then hung up on him, Siefken said.
Frustrated to tears, the 64-year-old retired truck driver and Army vet from Kennewick placed the emergency call while parked just feet away from the ER entrance. “They won’t come out and get me, do you believe that?” Siefken asked an emergency dispatcher, his voice wavering. “They told me to call 911 and hung up on me.”
In response to inquiries about Siefken’s case, a VA spokesman initially told The Seattle Times the hospital’s response was appropriate. “I know it sounds counterintuitive because someone is just 10 feet away, but it is our policy to do that,” said Chad Hutson, spokesman for the Veteran Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System. “Our policy is no different than Harborview or Swedish or other hospitals in Washington.”
common sense
But that’s not the case. And, after a reporter requested Siefken’s medical file and other records, the hospital changed its story, issuing a written statement earlier this month.
“After a complete review regarding this Veteran’s visit to the VA Puget Sound Seattle campus emergency room, we have determined we did not do the right thing to ensure the Veteran had assistance into the emergency room,” the statement said. It added that ER personnel “should have called the appropriate staff to come and assist the patient, ensuring he made it into the emergency room safely.” The hospital now plans “corrective actions to ensure this does not happen again to one of our Veterans,” the statement said.
On Tuesday, Dr. William Campbell, the hospital’s chief of staff, also met with Siefken to apologize. “He first called me on Friday, and he was all over himself apologizing,” Siefken said, before Tuesday’s meeting. Citing privacy concerns, the VA declined The Times’ request to observe Siefken’s meeting with Campbell.
“Just wouldn’t listen”
Siefken’s odyssey to a formal apology began on the afternoon of Feb. 27.
While getting ready to drive his wife from their Kennewick home to catch a red-eye flight at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Siefken “stepped down funny and heard a snap,” he said. During the long drive, his foot started to swell and hurt. “So I dropped my wife off at the airport, and headed right up to the VA.” By the time Siefken arrived, shortly after 3:30 a.m., his foot had swollen to the “size of a football” and was throbbing with pain, he said.
Siefken parked outside the ER on the ambulance roundabout and, because he couldn’t walk, called the front desk for help. The worker who answered “couldn’t for the life of him understand why someone from Kennewick was trying to get treated in Seattle,” Siefken said. “I tried and tried to explain it to him, but he just wouldn’t listen.” After an argument, Siefken said, the employee told him, “ ‘No, we’re not going to come get you. You’re going to have to call 911 and you’ll have to pay for that.’ ”
Siefken dialed 911 at about 3:40 a.m., records show. “They won’t come out and get me in a wheelchair,” he told a dispatcher. “How far away from the building are you?” she asked. “Well, I’m right by the ambulance entrance,” he said.
By 3:47 a.m., a Seattle fire captain and three firefighters manning Engine Company 30 arrived to wheel Siefken into the ER. Staff members examined him, took X-rays, put a boot on his foot and prescribed Hydrocodone for his pain.
Siefken, who declined to take the medication for fear he’d be unsafe to drive, drove back home to Kennewick after the hospital wouldn’t put him up for the night. He arrived four hours later, took a painkiller and crawled into bed.
When The Times asked about the case, Hutson initially said the hospital’s policy — like all other VA and private hospitals — was to call 911 to summon emergency medical responders to handle such a situation. “It has to do with liability and to make sure, like in this case, that the right personnel are there to safely extract the person from the vehicle,” Hutson said. (Hospital personnel aren’t the “right personnel” to safely move a patient?)
He added that the VA employee who talked to Siefken had asked, “ ‘Can you call 911?’ And he said, ‘yes.’ This was not an emergency situation, so we didn’t need to make the call for him.”
But that’s not how it happened, Siefken said. “My pain level was a 10 on a scale of 10,” he said, “and they just hung up on me.”
At least one other hospital and the Washington State Hospital Association noted hospital policies for such situations can vary.
“If we have a person that comes up our ambulance ramp in their personal vehicle and can’t make it in, we will transfer them into the emergency department,” said Susan Gregg, spokeswoman for Harborview Medical Center.
Against federal law
A federal law called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) generally requires most hospitals to conduct a medical screening of anyone who shows up seeking emergency treatment. The law’s so-called “250-yard rule” clarifies that hospitals have an “affirmative obligation” to treat patients — whether they make it inside an ER or not — when they arrive on a hospital campus.
“If you are close to the emergency department, they should basically come up and wheel you into the hospital,” said Barbara Tomar, federal affairs director for the Washington, D.C.-based American College of Emergency Physicians.
EMTALA applies primarily to hospitals that accept Medicare and Medicaid patients. The law doesn’t technically apply to VA hospitals, but the VA voluntarily complies with its policies to provide emergency care “to individual patients presenting to the Emergency Department,” the agency’s Emergency Medicine Handbook shows.
Yet, even in its written statement conceding it mishandled the case, Seattle’s VA hospital noted it does not consider Siefken’s situation an emergency. “Policies used to make the recommendation to call 911 for assistance, at the time of the emergency room visit, did not apply to this particular situation due to the non­emergent needs of the Veteran,” the statement said.
Tomar, whose organization represents 33,000 trained emergency doctors, said a broken foot can pose complications and is widely considered an injury that warrants emergency care subject to the federal law.
On Tuesday, while waiting to meet the hospital’s chief of staff, Siefken said his foot has not fully healed. “They said they’re sorry and they’re going to change things so this doesn’t happen again,” Siefken added. “That’s all I really wanted.”
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VA claims living veteran is dead, sends burial check, cuts benefits

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Fox News: A North Carolina veteran very much alive is fighting for his life following a clerical error that resulted in his family getting a document from the departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense stating he had died.
The notices, along with the government’s condolences, came with two checks to help pay for burial costs for Robert Pressley — but because the system now says Pressley is deceased, his benefits reportedly have been terminated.
Pressley, who supports a small family and is unable to work due to combat-related injuries, cannot afford to lose his benefits, he told WECT-TV.
To prove that I am alive is just insane and it scares me to death,” he said. “That at a touch of a button or because of someone’s clerical error my whole life can be taken away from me and it is.”
pressley
Pressley also claims duplicate letters were sent to his ex-wife, even though he told the VA multiple times he was divorced and has since remarried. “I mean, what do I do?” Pressley asked, according WECT-TV. “I am not getting any answers, I am not getting any help. I am scared.”
Complicating matters is the practice of the Social Security Administration, which does not verify the death reports it receives from multiple sources, including state vital records agencies and seven federal agencies. The VA, the Internal Revenue Service and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation are among the agencies that report deaths to the SSA.
According to a March GAO report, errors forced the SSA to delete nearly 8,200 deaths from its death data between February 2012 and January 2013. Though it’s difficult to determine exactly how many incorrect death notices have been sent via the VA, Pressley’s case does not seem to be unique.
In January, disabled Army veteran James Fales received a similar letter. In it, the VA extended its “deepest sympathy” to his wife Dorothea Fales.
James Fales, who, like Pressley, opened the letter himself, told KFSM –TV, “When you’re pronounced dead, and you are the one opening the letter, it isn’t really a bad thing.”
Fales, a retired sergeant, receives treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and an ankle injury at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in Arkansas.  His condolence letter was dated Jan. 8, 2015, but Fales said he got a call from the VA hospital seven days later asking for a follow-up doctor’s appointment.
In Fales’ case, the VA in Arkansas apologized for the error and issued a public statement to veterans that the agency was working on fixing the mistake.
The VA told FoxNews.com it is trying to determine what happened in Pressley’s case and correct the error. “(The VA) is committed to providing all eligible veterans, service members and survivors with their earned care and benefits,” Randy Noller, a spokesman for the VA, told FoxNews.com. “VA also takes seriously its obligation to properly safeguard any personal information within our possession. Without a privacy waiver from the veteran, we are very restricted by privacy laws and policies in what we can provide at this time.”
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For a glimpse of the VA’s “commitment”, see also:

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