Monday, May 2, 2016

U.S Department of Veterans Affairs Injustices By Erik Wescoat

The injustice that I will be discussing is the incompetence and subsequent negligent behavior of Veterans Affairs executives and regional directors. For anyone who is not familiar with the responsibilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs, its function is to provide numerous services to roughly 22 million American veterans. There are three subdivisions within the department: the Veterans Health Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration, and the National Cemetery Administration. The names of these subdivisions are fairly self-explanatory. The Health Administration provides medical care for veterans and all that encompasses veterans healthcare, the Benefits Administration provides services in regards to the benefits promised to our veterans such as college education and career services, and the Cemetery Administration deals with the burial arrangements of our veterans.
For the sake of this Justice Report, I will be focusing primarily on the Veterans Health Administration. The Veterans Health Administration is littered with numerous examples of injustices such as preventable death cases, infectious disease outbreaks, delayed healthcare, and an outdated patient management system.
"The Atlanta, Georgia VA Medical Center was responsible for FOUR preventable patient deaths alone, three of which were directly linked to widespread mismanagement. Despite these preventable deaths, former Atlanta VA Medical Center Director James Clark received $65,000 in bonuses over four years. Additionally, the facilities current director, Leslie Wiggins, maintains that no employees responsible for the mismanagement linked to the deaths should be fired." Likewise, "persistent management failures led to a deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System." Despite these management failures, VA Pittsburgh director Terry Gerigk Wolf "received a perfect performance review and regional director  Michael Moreland, who oversees VA Pittsburgh, collected a $63,000 bonus." Finally, a "December 12th audit of the Fayetteville VA Medical Center found facility employees did not complete required suicide prevention follow-ups 90 percent of the time for patients at a high risk of suicide." Again, despite this widespread mismanagement, Fayetteville VA Medical Director Elizabeth B. Goolsby received a performance bonus of $7,604." (
In addition to these preventable death cases, there have been numerous infectious disease outbreaks in multiple different sectors of the Veterans Health Administration. "1,800+ patients of the St. Louis, Missouri VA Medical Center were potentially exposed to HIV and Hepatitis as a result of unsanitary dental equipment. The facility has remained under fire for patient deaths, persistent patient-safety issues, and critical reports. Despite the problems at the medical center, the facility's director from 2009-2013, RimaAnn Nelson, received nearly $25,000 in bonuses during her tenure there." In another example of negligence "the Buffalo, New York VA Medical Center experienced chronic misuse of insulin pens that potentially exposed hundreds of veterans to blood-borne illnesses." During this time David West, a VA health health official in New York "pocketed nearly $26,000 in bonuses." Finally, "for nearly 18 years, the dental clinic at the Dayton, Ohio VA Medical Center allowed unsanitary practices, potentially exposing hundreds of patients to Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Dayton VA Medical Center Director Guy Richardson then collected an $11,874 bonus despite an investigation into the exposures. After 9 of the exposed patients tested positive for Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, Richardson was promoted." (
Lastly, our veterans deal with constant benefit delays within the Veterans Health Administration.
"VA Executive Diana Rubens, who is in charge of nearly 60 offices that oversee disability benefits compensation claims, collected almost $60,000 in bonuses while presiding over a near seven-fold increase in backlogged claims. The Director of VA's Philadelphia regional office, Thomas Lastowka, received $23,000 in bonuses despite a doubling in the backlog of disability compensation claims within one year. Likewise, the Director of VA's Phoenix regional office, Sandra Flint, received more than $53,000 in bonuses despite a doubling in the office's backlog of disability compensation claims.
Rewarding the executives with bonuses while presiding over preventable deaths and infectious disease outbreaks isn't the only injustice within the Veterans Health Administration. Our Veterans are falling victim to an outdated patient management system. There are far too many forms, agencies, and fees associated with VA healthcare. According to the American Action Forum, "Veterans potentially face 613 forms and 20 separate agencies as they seek the benefits and services they're owed. Nearly 70 percent of Veterans Affairs claims were pending for more than 125 days. That equates to almost 600,000 VA claims being backlogged. According to Sam Batkins, the American Action's Director of Regulatory Policy, "a veteran seeking health and education benefits could be required to complete as many as 49 different forms. This would cost the veteran 4+ hours of time and $125 in fees."(
Our veterans sacrifice a great deal to serve our country, yet when their service is over and they return to being civilians they are not guaranteed the benefits and services they were promised. If we aren’t following through with the promises we’ve made to our veterans and active duty military personnel, why should more and more people dedicate their lives to our protection? Reliable and timely health care should be a given due to the circumstances that our veterans are often placed in. So this leads to the question of 'What can we do?'. First and foremost, we can put pressure on our locall regional VA executives by writing to your local congressman or woman about these injustices. Next, we can support the American Action Forum's policy stance on reforming the VA system by donating or petitioning. Lastly and most importantly, we can support legislation to reform the VA's outdated patient management system, executive bonus programs, and to promote accountability among executives within the VA system. Specifically, we can support the 114th congress legislation. This Clay Hunt SAV act was enacted into law on February 12th, 2015 and aims to increase access to mental health care and capacity at VA to meet the demand, improve the quality of care, boost accountability at the VA, and develop a community support system for veterans. Similarly, the VA Accountability Act of 2015, which is still pending approval in the Senate, aims to provide for the removal or demotion of employees of the department of Veterans Affairs based on performance or conduct. (
If we take these necessary steps, and start the conversation about the injustices hindering the performance of our Department of Veterans Health Affairs, we can begin to fix these injustices and provide restitution to the victims and families of these victims. 

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