“First, do no harm.”

I watched the entire first session hearing by the House Veterans Affairs Committee for the Veterans’ Health Administration last night (May 28,2014). It was an appalling display, and brought to mind the above guideline to which most physicians subscribe, although it is not a part of the Hippocratic Oath.

DrThomas Lynch, assistant deputy undersecretary for health for clinical operations, Veterans Health Administration, was the principal administrator on the hot seat. Joan Mooney,  assistant secretary for congressional and legislative affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Michael Huff, a congressional relations officer with the Department of Veterans Affairs, shared the duties to testify before the committee. The latter two are primary go-between staffers for the VA to the Congress.

Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (R-Indiana) said it well when she summarized the first session last night, telling the VA representatives she learned only that the three “knew nothing” after more than two hours of testimony. “I have more questions tonight than I had when I walked in here. I know less tonight,” she said. [ See: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/05/29/late-night-fireworks-on-capitol-hill-as-va-officials-face-congressional-ire/ ]

It occurs to me, all three VA officials who testified sit near the top of the chain of command. Dr. Lynch’s title would seem to infer he is part of a “management team” overseeing how VA health facilities operate, yet he knew nothing of how they actually operate and proved that time and again with his testimony. In my opinion, it is part and parcel of how the massive bureaucracy that is the federal government operates. People, perhaps well meaning, occupy high level positions of authority and do not understand basic personnel or facility management. Dr. Lynch said he spent a week in the Phoenix facility “learning the process” (of how schedulers make care appointments for veterans). Furthermore, he admitted he did not speak with a single scheduler. Really?

It was pointed out in the hearing, veterans can be referred out for private medical care in their own communities, but that requires going through more hoops and expense. So what? Take care of our veterans! Perhaps we should contract the entire VA health system to the local hospitals and doctors, and administrators…particularly administrators who already know what they are doing.

Time and again, during the hearing, it became clear to me the data issued by the VA has been manipulated to put their best foot forward. VA data cannot be trusted. Bonuses to supervisory staff was a primary reason data was falsified.

As a taxpayer, and as a supporter of our military men and women and veterans, I’m personally very angry anyone in any administrative position could fudge numbers and apparently cause the death of a veteran just to meet expectations and earn a bonus. Frankly, should I have the authority, many, many folks in the VA health division would be on the street looking for a job today. At the same time, it also occurs to me the fine doctors and nurses who actually provide medical care to our veterans must be insulted supervisors have tainted the reputation of their honorable profession, all in the name of making goal and earning a bonus.

In my view, the “bonus” practice in the federal government must be eliminated. Federal employees are already compensated well, and many seem to be unqualified to do what they are assigned. A share of the blame for this fiasco goes to employee unions and civil service rules that make it difficult to fire federal employees, in my view. Things must change…quickly. 

The current disaster and shame in the VA health system is “systemic” throughout America, according to an inspector general report made public prior to last night’s hearing. I’m appalled Dr. Lynch time and again said simply “we’re working on it,” and Ms. Mooney continually referred her answers to “general counsel”. Come on, Ms. Mooney, we, the taxpayers are the client. Just tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may.

Given what we now know, this is frightening: “VA operates the nation’s largest integrated health care system, with more than 1,700 hospitals, clinics, community living centers, domiciliaries, readjustment counseling centers, and other facilities.” [ See: http://www.va.gov/ ] Maybe this is an indication of just what Obamacare will become for all Americans, once the federal government is fully operating that health care law.

There is so much more to this than I can rant about in this space. Suffice it to say, Americans should be very angry. Veterans have died waiting for medical care. That is unacceptable and criminal on its face.

Everyone in a supervisor or administrative position in the VA Health Department should be ashamed, and most of them, union or not, should be replaced forthwith. — D. C. “Dan” Lee, http://www.dannyboystories.com