Whistleblowers and the Department of Veterans Affairs

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On April 27th, President Trump signed an Executive Order to create the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection within the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”).

According to the AP, VA Secretary David Shulkin said the office will help identify “barriers” that make it difficult for the department to fire or reassign bad employees. Another function of the office will be to help shield whistleblowers from retaliation.

To many, it may seem surprising that a new office within the VA is required to protect “whistleblowers,” since private and public whistleblowers have long been afforded protection under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989.

Clearly, additional protection is needed if doctors like Dr. Dale Klein can be relegated to an empty room for bringing VA abuse to the attention of the Inspector General.  Found below is a report for Fox News:

Dr. Dale Klein may be the highest-paid U.S. government employee who literally does nothing while he’s on the clock. A highly rated pain management specialist at the Southeast Missouri John J. Pershing V.A., Klein is paid $250,000 a year to work with veterans, but instead of helping those who served their country, he sits in a small office and does nothing. All day. Every day.

“I sit in a chair and I look at the walls,” the doctor said of his typical workday. “It feels like solitary confinement.”

A double board certified physician and Yale University fellow, Klein said the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) took away his patients and privileges almost a year ago after, he alleges, he blew the whistle on secret wait-lists and wait-time manipulation at the V.A. in Poplar Bluff, Mo., as well as his suspicion that some veterans were reselling their prescriptions on the black market.

While one would like to be optimistic that the new “Whistleblower Office” within the VA would help improved efficiency within the VA, I suspect that there are far too many institutional barriers to be overcome in this mammoth organization.

Department of Veterans Affairs

Size Matters at the Department of Veterans Affairs

The VA’s simple mission laid down by President Abraham Lincoln is “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”

Needless to say, each person has his or her interpretation of what that VA mission entails, but over time the VA has laid on layers of responsibility to fulfill that mission.   In the military, we often refer to that as “mission creep.”

In effect, the VA – whether pressured by Congress, the President or their own Administration – have taken on responsibilities that may or may not be what was originally intended under President Lincoln’s promise.

More importantly, the VA has centralized most functions under its umbrella to administer to the needs of Veterans.

Employing some 350,000 people and many outside consultants, the VA administers health and benefit programs to millions of Veterans.  In economic terms, one might characterize the VA as a monopoly.

While many of the services provided by the VA are excellent, it would be unrealistic to expect that ALL services are effective.

In fact, the IG, internal VA audits and the IG have reported many irregularities at the VA.  Unmanned Crisis Call Centers, unacceptable patient “wait times” and the heavy reliance on prescription drugs all contribute to public wariness and distrust of the VA.   More importantly, many Veterans reject the services provided by the VA.

SFTT has long argued that the VA is far too large to succeed on every front without compromising their main mission.  Shortly after Dr. David Shulkin was appointed Secretary of the VA, we wrote:

NO AMOUNT OF MONEY or CHANGE IN LEADERSHIP or ENACTMENT OF NEW LEGISLATION will bring about A MORE RESPONSIVE VA.

The VA has become a bureaucracy that answers only to itself and is not responsive to the needs of Veterans.  Frankly, the VA has lost its way and very little will change unless the VA is broken down into far smaller manageable components.

While smaller components of the VA will invariably fail, A SMALLER AND LESS CENTRALIZED VA WON’T COMPROMISE THE FULL MISSION.  

VA Whistleblowers and David Cox

Dr. Shulkin and others clearly realize that there are serious problems of accountability within the VA.  The April 27, 2017 Executive Order is designed to help “weed out” waste and inefficiencies within the VA.

J. David Cox

J. David Cox

Despite much needed reform within the largely ungovernable VA, I suspect that  J. David Cox, President of the American Federation of Government Employees, will continue to run a destabilizing campaign to block any meaningful reform.

We admire the courage of “whistleblowers,” but Veterans shouldn’t expect great changes considering the entrenched positions of David Cox and his henchmen.

It is reassuring to see Dr. Shulkin take action to confront the serious problems within the VA.  We wish him success in his endeavors and hope that he receives much needed support from our elected leaders to bring radical reform to the VA.

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SFTT Military News: Week Ending Apr 28, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT.

Israeli Airstrike at Syrian Airport Confirmed
An Israeli missile strike has caused a large explosion and fire at a military site near Damascus international airport, Syrian state media report. A fuel tank and warehouses were damaged, the Sana news agency said. But Syrian rebel sources said an arms depot run by Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, which is fighting in Syria as an ally of the government, was hit. Israel said the explosion was “consistent” with its policy to prevent Iran smuggling weapons to Hezbollah.  Read more . . .

Brain Shock Therapy by US DARPA Army Research Group
The US military is working with seven American universities to see if electrically stimulating the brain will increase the ability to learn new skills. The Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT) program is focused on synaptic plasticity, the ability of the brain to build new neural pathways to absorb knowledge. By stimulating the nerves that connect neurons in the brain and spinal cord to organs, skin and muscles, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is hoping that the brain can be trained to learn new skills more quickly.  Read more . . .

Rethinking the US Military Health System
During Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom (2001 – 2014), the United States’ military health system completely transformed its approach to casualty care, achieving the highest rate of survival from battlefield wounds in the history of warfare. It is one of the most remarkable accomplishments in the history of US medicine. Ironically, the same health care system that worked miracles “down range” in Iraq and Afghanistan faces mounting criticism at home. How can this be? In part, it is because the military health system has two distinctive missions: support combat and humanitarian assistance missions overseas and provide comprehensive health services to millions of service members, their families, and military retirees at home.   Read more . . .

North Korean Military Strength Overrated?
North Korea’s soldiers mostly carry fake weapons during their mass-scale parades, a former US intelligence officer has said. Michael Pregent believes many of the arms flaunted by menacing-looking North Korean troops during their displays are dummies, and claims even their sunglasses wouldn’t be fit for combat. Pregent was asked to look at photographs from an April 15 military parade in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.  Read more . . .

Taliban

 Taliban Announces Spring Offensive
Afghanistan’s Taliban announced the start of their annual spring offensive Friday, promising to build their political base in the country while focusing military assaults on coalition and Afghan security forces. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced the launch of the offensive in an email statement that boasted Taliban control over more than half of the country, referencing a February report issued by Washington’s special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction. That report said that the Afghan government had control or influence over only 52 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts last year, down from 63.4 percent previously.  Read more . . .

Brainwave Study to Help Fight PTSD
The new study was led by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. The investigators sought to tackle PTSD from another angle, through the patients’ own brainwaves. The study involved 18 patients who completed an average of 16 successive, daily sessions of what the researchers called “noninvasive closed-loop acoustic stimulation brainwave technology.” During the sessions, the patients’ brain activity was monitored and certain brain frequencies were translated into acoustic tones that were then relayed back to the patients via earbuds.  Read more . . .

 Whistleblower Protection Executive Order for VA
President Donald Trump, as part of his dash to rack up wins before the end of his first 100 days, signed an executive order Thursday that creates a new office devoted to protecting whistleblowers at the Department of Veterans Affairs.Before signing the order at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Trump said the new office will help provide veterans with the “health care they need and the health care they deserve.””We are not going to let them down,” Trump said, arguing that the order “makes it clear that we will never tolerate substandard care for our great veterans” and ensure that those who report problems at the veterans affairs are protected.  Read more . . .

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

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