THE DEPARTMENT OF
The Catbird Seat & The Catbird Nest
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September 13, 2010
VA Made Secret Deal with Prudential;
Families Lose Millions to Insurance Giant
Bloomberg Markets Magazine
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs failed to inform 6 million soldiers and their families of an agreement enabling Prudential Financial Inc. to withhold lump-sum payments of life insurance benefits for survivors of fallen service members, according to records made public through a Freedom of Information request.
The amendment to Prudential’s contract is the first document to show how VA officials sanctioned a payment practice that has spurred investigations by lawmakers and regulators. Since 1999, Prudential has used so-called retained-asset accounts which allow the company to withhold lump sum payments due to survivors and earn investment income on the money for itself.
The Sept. 1, 2009, amendment to Prudential’s contact with the VA ratified another unpublicized deal that had been struck between the insurer and the government 10 years earlier — one that was never put into writing, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its November issue. This verbal agreement in 1999 provoked concern among top insurance officials of the agency, the documents released in the FOIA request show.
For a decade, until the contract was formally changed, Prudential wasn’t fulfilling its obligations to survivors of fallen service members, says Brendan Bridgeland, an insurance lawyer who runs the non-profit Center for Insurance Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“It’s very clear they violated the original terms of the contract,” says Bridgeland, who is retained by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to represent consumers.
“Every veteran I’ve spoken with is appalled at the brazen war profiteering by Prudential,” says Paul Sullivan, who served in the 1991 Gulf War as an Army cavalry scout and is now executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington. “Now vets are upset at the VA’s inability to stop Prudential’s bad behavior.”
That the VA allowed Prudential to issue retained-asset accounts for 10 years while the contract required lump-sum payouts is “more evidence that the VA was asleep at the wheel for a decade,” says Sullivan, who was a project manager and analyst at the VA from 2000 to 2006.
“When grieving families check the box that they want a lump sum, they should get it. We remain disappointed and irate at the VA’s failure to provide advocacy for veterans,” he says.
State and U.S. Probes
Since July 28, when Bloomberg Markets first reported that Prudential sent checkbooks instead of checks to survivors requesting lump-sum payments, state and federal officials have demanded the retained-asset system be investigated and reformed. The VA itself launched a probe of its life insurance program the day the first story was published.
The next day, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo launched what he called a “major fraud investigation” of Prudential and other life insurers over their use of retained-asset accounts. Since then, Cuomo’s office has issued subpoenas to Prudential and at least 12 more insurance companies.
The insurance departments in Georgia and New York have also opened probes. The U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee plans to hold hearings into Prudential’s use of retained-asset accounts to pay money owed to fallen soldiers’ survivors.
‘News to Me’
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates — whose department includes the VA and who was in office when the 2009 agreement was signed — said when the VA started its probe that he had been unaware that survivors were being sent retained-asset accounts.
“Until today I actually believed that the families of our fallen heroes got a check for the full amount of their benefits,” Gates said at the time. “This came as news to me.”...
CONTINUED AT: PRUDENTIAL - A NEST ON SHAKY GROUND
August 22, 2009
As vets await checks, VA
workers get $24M bonuses
By KIMBERLY HEFLING, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON – Outside the Veterans Affairs Department, severely wounded veterans have faced financial hardship waiting for their first disability payment. Inside, money has been flowing in the form of $24 million in bonuses.
(Catbird Note: That’s UP from the scandalous $3.8 million in 2006...a sign that the economy is improving?)
In scathing reports this week, the VA's inspector general said thousands of technology office employees at the VA received the bonuses over a two-year period, some under questionable circumstances. It also detailed abuses ranging from nepotism to an inappropriate relationship between two VA employees.
The inspector general accused one recently retired VA official of acting "as if she was given a blank checkbook" as awards and bonuses were distributed to employees of the Office of Information and Technology in 2007 and 2008. In some cases the justification for the bonuses was inadequate or questionable, the IG said.
The official, Jennifer S. Duncan, also engaged in nepotism and got $60,000 in bonuses herself, the IG said. In addition, managers improperly authorized college tuition payments for VA employees, some of whom were Duncan's family members and friends. That cost taxpayers nearly $140,000.
Separately, a technology office employee became involved in an "inappropriate personal relationship" with a high-level VA official. The technology office employee flew 22 times from Florida to Washington, where the VA official lived. That travel cost $37,000.
The details on the alleged improprieties were in two IG reports issued this week. VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts said the agency was extremely concerned about the IG's findings and would pursue a thorough review.
"VA does not condone misconduct by its employees and will take the appropriate correction action for those who violate VA policy," Roberts said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
On Friday, Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said if the allegations are found to be true, individuals involved should lose their jobs, and legal action should be taken.
"America's veterans served their nation honorably and with no expectations of reward," Davis said in an e-mail. "It should not be too much to ask for that same level of commitment from government employees, too."
And Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the top Republican on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, said Congress should investigate.
The number of claims the VA needs to process has escalated, and the Information and Technology Office has a critical role in improving the technological infrastructure to handle the increase. President Barack Obama has said creating a seamless transition for records between the Pentagon and the VA could help eliminate a backlog that has left some veterans waiting months for a disability check.
Much of the IG's focus was on Duncan, the former executive assistant to the ex-assistant secretary for information and technology, Robert Howard.
In one situation, a part-time intern with connections to Duncan was allowed to convert to a full-time paid position even though the individual was working a part-time schedule 500 miles away at college, the IG said.
"We have never known of any other new VA employee provided such favorable treatment," the IG said.
The individual's name and relationship to Duncan was blacked out, as were many other names in the reports.
Investigators recommended that the employees who received the college money pay it back. The largest amount awarded was $33,000.
In addition to Duncan, three other high-level employees received $73,000, $58,000 and $59,000 in bonuses in 2007 and 2008, the IG said. In 2007 alone, 4,700 employees were awarded bonuses, on average $2,500 each.
Some employees were given cash awards for services that were supposedly provided before the employees started working at VA, the IG said.
A man who answered the phone at Duncan's residence in Rehoboth Beach, Del., said she was not available, and he said not to call back.
The IG also found that Katherine Adair Martinez, deputy assistant secretary for information protection and risk management in the Office of Information and Technology, misused her position, abused her authority and engaged in prohibited personnel practices when she influenced a VA contractor and later VA subordinates to employ a friend.
The IG also said Martinez "took advantage of an inappropriate personal relationship" with Howard to transfer her job to Florida. In the nine months after she moved, the IG said Martinez traveled to Washington 22 times "to accomplish tasks that she could easily do from Florida."
The relationship between Martinez and Howard started in April 2007 and continued several months after Howard left the VA in January of this year, the IG said.
Roberts' e-mail did not address a request from the AP to speak with Martinez. Howard could not be immediately located for comment.
Indiana Rep. Steve Buyer, top Republican on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, urged quick action to fix the problems. "VA must appoint honorable individuals to these critical positions," he said.
The VA has faced criticism before in its awarding of bonuses. In 2007, the AP reported that the then-VA secretary had approved a generous package of more than $3.8 million in bonus payments in 2006, citing a need to retain longtime VA executives.
On the Net:
Reports from VA Inspector General:
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VAMPIRES IN THE DEPT OF VETERAN’S AFFAIRS
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June 18, 2008
VCS in the News: Congress and VCS Demand a Stop to Experimental Drug Testing on Veterans with PTSD
Vic Walter and Maddy Sauer, ABC News
"VA should have done a better job protecting the human rights of our veterans," said Paul Sullivan of VCS.
June 18, 2008 - The Chair of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee is calling for an immediate suspension of government tests on veterans involving an anti-smoking drug that has been linked to suicide.
"Nearly 40 suicides and more than 400 incidents of suicidal behavior have been linked to Chantix, yet the VA has chosen to continue the study and administer Chantix to veterans with PTSD," said Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA).
"The VA must immediately suspend this study until a comprehensive review of the safety of the protocol is conducted," said Rep. Filner.
Yesterday, a report on Good Morning America revealed that mentally distressed veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are being recruited for government tests on pharmaceutical drugs linked to suicide and other violent side effects. The report was the result of a joint investigation by ABC News and The Washington Times.
In one of the human experiments, involving the anti-smoking drug Chantix, Veterans Administration doctors waited more than three months before warning veterans about the possible serious side effects of Chantix, including suicide and neuropsychiatric behavior.
"Lab rat, guinea pig, disposable hero," said former US Army sniper James Elliott in describing how he felt he was betrayed by the Veterans Administration.
Elliott, 38, of suburban Washington, D.C., was recruited, at $30 a month, for the Chantix anti-smoking study three years after being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He served a 15-month tour of duty in Iraq from 2003-2004.
Months after he began taking the drug, Elliott suffered a mental breakdown, experiencing a relapse of Iraq combat nightmares he blames on Chantix.
Veterans groups are also expressing their anger over the study. The executive director of Veterans for Common Sense said that this is yet another example of the VA failing America's veterans.
"VA should have done a better job protecting the human rights of our veterans," said Paul Sullivan of VCS.
"While VCS supports research to assist veterans, VA must bear a heavy burden of responsibility with these experiments on veterans diagnosed with PTSD," said Sullivan, who is also calling for an immediate suspension of the study.
Meanwhile, the VA is calling the ABC News / Washington Times report "inaccurate and misleading".
"In our PTSD and smoking cessation study, our research is to learn if it is easier to stop smoking when smoking cessation treatment is combined with PTSD therapy, or whether the two therapies are more effective if they are provided separately," said a statement posted on the VA website.
"In either case, patients are receiving treatment recommended by their own doctors using counseling with or without FDA approved medication that includes Varenicline (Chantix). Participation in this program is voluntary, and all participants are closely monitored clinically by mental health professionals who provide smoking cessation methods patients agree to use," the VA statement said.
The VA also said that it passed on warning about Chantix in a timely manner in November of last year after the FDA issued a statement on Chantix.
'VA immediately passed along that concern to practitioners at all of our medical centers. On February 1, FDA issued a 'Public Health Advisory,' to providers, providing more information on potential side effects of which clinicians and patients should be aware. VA distributed this alert to pharmacists in its system on that same day, and to researchers on February 5," said the statement.
The VA also said that it wrote a letter to participants that while not specifically warning of the suicide links, requested that they discuss possible side-effects with their doctors. The VA said the team that wrote the letter "felt that the issue of suicide should be discussed in a clinical setting, not in a mailing to a group of patients."
Chantix is one of the drugs being used in an estimated 25 clinical studies using veterans by the VA.
Pfizer maintains that "the benefits of Chantix outweigh the risks" and that it continues to do further studies on the drug.
Click here to read the full ABC News report 'Disposable Heroes'
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See also > > > Uncle Sam’s Guinea Pigs
June 12, 2008
Veterans from 1960s chemical
tests press for help
By ERICA WERNER, The Associated Press
Lawmakers and veterans of secret Cold War-era chemical and germ tests on military personnel demanded help from the Bush administration Thursday, but they got no satisfaction.
Officials from the Pentagon and Veterans Affairs Department said there was no need for legislation to guarantee health care and benefits to the veterans. Thousands of service-members were exposed, often without their knowledge, to real and simulated chemical and biological agents, including sarin and VX.
The tests were conducted at sea and above a half-dozen U.S. states from 1962-1973 to see how U.S. ships would withstand chemical and germ assaults and how such weapons would disperse.
"We were exposed to health hazards almost continuously," retired Navy Reserve Lt. Commander Jack Alderson told the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee on disability assistance.
Veterans who tried to get help from the V.A. were "shown the door," Alderson said, his voice loud and choked with emotion.
"I guess this is one of those times when someone should apologize to you on behalf of your country, so I will presume to do that," the panel's chairman, Democratic Rep. John Hall of New York, told Alderson.
Administration officials said there was no definitive link between the tests - called Project 112 and Project SHAD - and illnesses, including cancer and respiratory problems, now afflicting Alderson and others.
"DOD opposes this legislation. The scientific evidence does not support" it, Michael L. Dominguez, a principal deputy undersecretary of defense, said in written testimony to the panel.
The Pentagon did not send Dominguez or anyone else to testify in person. That aggravated Hall, who said the Defense Department backed out just last week after initially agreeing to attend.
"The nexus between DOD and V.A. is undeniable," Hall said as the hearing began. "Congress deserves the right to question the appropriate DOD personnel in person, not just in writing."
DOD spokeswoman Cynthia Smith defended the agency's no-show and said officials would respond to questions raised at the hearing.
"All V.A. issues are extremely important to the DOD," Smith said. "We decided the most effective and efficient way to handle this issue was to submit written testimony."
The V.A. witness echoed what DOD had to say. Bradley Mayes, the Veterans Affairs director of compensation and pensions, called legislation unnecessary because the agency was not "aware of evidence linking any disease to participation in project SHAD."
The bill under consideration is patterned after legislation passed in 1991 to help people exposed to Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant use used by U.S. forces in Vietnam that was linked to cancer and other ailments. Written by Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., it would guarantee coverage and benefits to veterans of Projects 112 and SHAD without requiring them to prove a connection to their military service.
Thompson said it took DOD decades to admit the secret tests actually happened and he put no stock in their refusal to recognize health problems the tests may have caused.
A similar bill is scheduled for a vote in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee later this month.
April 6, 2008
VA credit charges
By HOPE YEN, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Veterans Affairs employees last year racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in government credit-card bills at casino and luxury hotels, movie theaters and high-end retailers such as Sharper Image and Franklin Covey - and government auditors are investigating, citing past spending abuses.
All told, VA staff charged $2.6 billion to their government credit cards.
The Associated Press, through a Freedom of Information request, obtained the VA list of 3.1 million purchases made in the 2007 budget year. The list offers a detailed look into the everyday spending at the government's second largest department.
By and large, it reveals few outward signs of questionable spending, with hundreds of purchases at prosthetic, orthopedic and other medical supply stores.
But there are multiple charges that have caught the eye of government investigators.
At least 13 purchases totaling $8,471 were charged at Sharper Image, a specialty store featuring high-tech electronics and gizmos such as robotic barking dogs. In addition, 19 charges worth $1,999.56 were made at Franklin Covey, which sells leather totes and planners geared toward corporate executives.
Government reports in 2004 said these two companies, by virtue of the types of products they market, would "more likely be selling unauthorized or personal use items" to federal employees.
Many of the 14,000 VA employees with credit cards, who work at headquarters in Washington and at medical centers around the nation, also spent tens of thousands of dollars at Wyndham hotels in places such as San Diego, Orlando, Fla., and on the riverfront in Little Rock, Ark. One-time charges ranged up to $8,000.
On at least six occasions, employees based at VA headquarters made credit card charges at Las Vegas casino hotels totaling $26,198.
VA spokesman Matt Smith the department was reviewing these and other purchases as part of its routine oversight of employee spending. He noted that many of the purchases at Sharper Image and other stores included clocks for low-vision veterans, humidifiers, air purifiers, alarm devices and basic planner products.
Smith said all the casino hotel expenditures in 2007 were for conferences and related expenses. He said the spending was justified because Las Vegas is a place where "VA is building a new medical center and an increasing number of veterans are calling home."
"The Department of Veterans Affairs, like many public and private groups, hosts conferences and meetings in Las Vegas due to the ease of participant travel, the capacity of the facilities, and the overall cost associated with hosting a conference," he said.
According to VA policy, purchase cards may be used at hotels to rent conference rooms or obtain audiovisual equipment or other items for VA meetings. They should not be used to reserve lodging. Auditors long have urged the VA to adopt policies to encourage use of free conference rooms. Auditors previously faulted the agency for booking rooms at expensive casino hotels without evidence it first had sought free space.
In the coming weeks, auditors at the Government Accountability Office and the VA inspector general's office are to issue reports on purchase card use and spending controls at the VA and other agencies. The reports are expected to show lingering problems at the VA, which auditors cited in 2004 for lax spending controls that wasted up to $1.1 million.
The list of charges provided to the AP gives the vendor, amount purchased, location and employee name; in most cases it does not indicate the specific item purchased. Requests by the AP for lists of the additional data in a timely manner were repeatedly declined on privacy and proprietary grounds.
The VA list shows that some credit-card holders took a modest route. VA employees in locations such as Portland, Ore., Gainesville, Fla., and Sheridan, Wyo., had charges for Motel 6 and Travelodge inns. One VA headquarters employee appears to have passed up casino hotels by booking at a Holiday Inn Express in Las Vegas for $787.75.
"For government travel and other spending, you have to be mindful of the appearances you're creating," said Steve Ellis, vice president of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. "If you're staying at a hotel at a strip in Vegas, you better have a pretty good reason for why a taxpayer should be funding the stay."
"It's not like the VA hasn't gotten into trouble for credit card abuses in the past," he added. "I find it hard to justify any government purchase from Sharper Image - unless you get something really goofy, it's going to be cheaper elsewhere."
Penalties for misuse of government credit cards range from suspension of the credit card to a reprimand and disciplinary action. Employees may be criminally prosecuted for fraud. More serious cases in recent years involved purchases of computers, televisions, DVD players and other items that were then sold to friends or kept for personal use.
"It's all being looked at," said Belinda Finn, the VA's assistant inspector general for auditing, in a telephone interview. Pointing to Sharper Image purchases in particular, Finn said many of the VA expenses identified by the AP raised serious "red flags."
"For a lot of the transactions on purchase cards, to be effective you really need to keep a close watch," she said. "It's really the first-level supervisors who know what's going on the most."
Congressional leaders said the expenditures were troubling.
Rep. Harry Mitchell, chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs subcommittee on oversight, said he would question VA officials about the purchases at a hearing set for July. Mitchell, D-Ariz., said he feared there may be "a growing culture of wasteful spending at the VA."
He noted that former VA Secretary Jim Nicholson had awarded more than $3.8 million in bonus payments to senior officials despite their roles in crafting a flawed budget that fell $1 billion short.
"It seems irresponsible that while our veterans are waiting months for doctor's appointments, the VA is spending thousands of dollars at Las Vegas casino hotels and high-end retail shops instead of seeking out more affordable or cost-free alternatives," Mitchell said.
Sen. Daniel Akaka, who heads the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, said he planned to closely review the upcoming audit reports to see if spending controls needed to be tightened.
"I remain concerned that the federal government may end up paying more than necessary when employees purchase items one-by-one," said Akaka, D-Hawaii. "While I am confident that the vast majority of these charges are appropriate and legal, I urge VA to aggressively investigate allegations of fraud."
Over the years, lawmakers and watchdog groups have pointed to the potential abuse of government purchase cards, particularly at large agencies such as Defense, Homeland Security and VA, where card spending for goods ranging from defibrillators and prosthetics to Starbucks coffee has climbed from $1.7 billion in 2003 to $2.6 billion today.
In the past, purchase cards have been improperly used to pay for prostitutes, gambling activity and even breast implants.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the GAO estimated that 45 percent of Homeland Security purchase card spending during a six-month period was improper and included iPods, designer rain jackets and beer-making equipment. The credit-card bills are directly payable by Uncle Sam [aka US Taxpayers].
In 2004, the GAO faulted the VA for at least $300,000 in questionable charges, citing 3,348 movie gift certificates totaling over $30,000 that lacked documentation. Echoing similar concerns by the department's inspector general, investigators urged greater use of volume discounts and flagged several high-end retailers as questionable vendors that would require detailed paperwork to justify.
Among the other areas investigators say raise "red flags":
-Movie expenses. VA employees in 2007 made 68 charges totaling roughly $21,000 at Regal Cinemas. In light of previous questionable purchases of movie tickets, investigators say they will review the transactions case by case to see if the 2007 purchases are supported by the proper paperwork.
-Charges of $227.50 for harbor cruises in Baltimore and seven expenses totaling more than $6,603 at various Macy's locations. Such vendors were cited by the GAO in 2004 as questionable by virtue of the goods they typically provided and would need full documentation by VA employees to justify.
In response, the VA said it often pays for movies or harbor cruises as part of outpatient recreational therapy it provides for patients with schizophrenia and other problems. The VA did not immediately say whether all the required paperwork was submitted.
"I'm very concerned about frivolous, wasteful spending at the VA," said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense. "With hundreds of thousands of veterans homeless, VA employees don't need to be staying at ritzy-glitzy high-priced hotels, possibly gambling with taxpayers' money."
September 23, 2007
Disgraceful Legacy: VA's Nicholson is Worse than All the Other Bush Political Appointees
Dan Moffett, Palm Beach Post (Florida)
As the Bush administration downward-spirals its way into the unforgiving annals of history, a fierce competition continues over who will go down as the president's most incompetent appointee.
Michael Brown, the former head of FEMA who botched the response to Hurricane Katrina and then played down a catastrophe of biblical proportions with White House talking points, was the early leader in the clubhouse. But Mr. Brown is facing stiff challenges in recent months from within the Cabinet.
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has to be considered a contender. Besides getting nothing right about Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld also left the U.S. military in the worst shape it's been since Vietnam. Had he served another six months, the Viet Cong might have reorganized and invaded Los Angeles.
Of course, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has made his own compelling case for infamy. Besides wrecking the Justice Department, Mr. Gonzales' performance during congressional hearings gave amnesiacs a bad name.
The dark horse in the race for most incompetent appointee (MIA) is Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson, who is leaving office Oct. 1 after an impressive 32-month run of sustained ineptitude.
Mr. Nicholson made himself a contender with an eclectic display of bad management and indifference toward veterans' needs: He was $1.3 billion short on his first budget. He oversaw the debacle over outpatient conditions at Walter Reed Hospital. He gave $3.8 million in bonuses to VA administrators while soldiers returning from Iraq waited and waited and waited to see doctors.
He allowed the theft of 26.5 million vets' personal data because of inadequate security controls over laptop computers.
Hey, when it comes to haplessness, this guy deserves to be considered right there with Brownie, Rummy and Gonzo.
Mr. Nicholson, who got his job as a reward for serving as the Republican National Committee chairman, made what should be his final appearance before Congress last week. Predictably, it was another embarrassment.
Members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee listened with appropriate skepticism as Mr. Nicholson tried to dismiss the results of a VA inspector general's report released this month. The auditors examined hundreds of outpatient appointments for care at 10 VA medical centers. The investigators found that the VA was consistently distorting its record on wait times for injured and ailing veterans.
There is no practical difference between distorting and lying in how the agency behaved.
The auditors found that the VA falsely and repeatedly reported to Congress that nearly all its patient appointments - about 95 percent - were scheduled within 30 days of requests. In fact, only about 75 percent of veterans received timely appointments.
The report also found that the VA may have understated the number of veterans on its electronic waiting lists by more than 50,000 - this, despite constant warnings from Congress to provide accurate data.
The numbers that Mr. Nicholson was able to get right are discouraging as ever. He admitted that the VA has been unable to make progress in reducing the backlogs of disability claims, a chronic problem that has been exacerbated by veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with physical and mental injuries. Vets still have to wait about six months to get rulings on their claims.
Mr. Nicholson testified that he is "bedeviled" by the backlog problem. He also was bedeviled by budgets, administrative largess, laptops and honesty in general.
Probably Mr. Nicholson's greatest contribution to the VA is providing the ideal example of the type of unqualified political crony who never should be entrusted to oversee veterans' care. Running the RNC is hardly the proper proving ground for running the VA.
But among the many things the Bush administration will be remembered for is giving the unqualified the opportunity to demonstrate their incompetence.
July 23, 2007
Injured Iraq war veterans sue
federal government over pay
By HOPE YEN, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -Frustrated by delays in health care, a coalition of injured Iraq war veterans is accusing VA Secretary Jim Nicholson of breaking the law by denying them disability pay and mental health treatment.
The class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, filed Monday in federal court in San Francisco, seeks broad change in the agency as it struggles to meet growing demands from veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Suing on behalf of hundreds of thousands of veterans, it charges that the VA has failed warriors on several fronts - from providing prompt disability benefits, to adding staff to reduce wait times for medical care to boosting services for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The lawsuit also accuses the VA of deliberately cheating some veterans by allegedly working with the Pentagon to misclassify PTSD claims as pre-existing personality disorders to avoid paying out benefits. The VA and Pentagon have generally denied such charges.
VA spokesman Matt Smith said Monday he could not comment on a pending lawsuit. But he said the agency is committed to meeting the special needs of Iraq war veterans....
The lawsuit comes amid intense political and public scrutiny of the VA and Pentagon following reports of shoddy outpatient care of injured soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and elsewhere.
"Unless systemic and drastic measures are instituted immediately, the costs to these veterans, their families, and our nation will be incalculable, including broken families, a new generation of unemployed and homeless veterans, increases in drug abuse and alcoholism, and crushing burdens on the health care delivery system," the complaint states.
It asks that a federal court order the VA to make immediate improvements that would speed disability payments, ensure fairness in awards and provide more complete access to mental health care.
Earlier this month, a federal appeals court in San Francisco issued a strong rebuke of the VA in ordering the agency to pay retroactive benefits to Vietnam War veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and contracted a form of leukemia.
"The performance of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs has contributed substantially to our sense of national shame," the opinion from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals read.
Nicholson abruptly announced last week he would step down by Oct. 1 to return to the private sector. He has repeatedly defended the agency during his 2 1/2-year tenure while acknowledging there was room for improvement.
More recently, following high-profile suicide incidents in which families of veterans say the VA did not provide adequate care, Nicholson pledged to add mental health services and hire more suicide-prevention coordinators.
Some veterans say those measures aren't enough. In the lawsuit, they note that government investigators warned as early as 2002 that the VA needed to fix its backlogged claims system and make other changes.
Yet, the lawsuit says, Nicholson and other officials still insisted on a budget in 2005 that fell $1 billion short, and they made "a mockery of the rule of law" by awarding senior officials $3.8 million in bonuses despite their role in the budget foul-up.
Today, the VA's backlog of disability payments is now between 400,000 and 600,000, with delays of up to 177 days to process an initial claim and an average of 657 days to process an appeal. Several congressional committees and a presidential commission are now studying ways to improve care.
"While steps can and will be taken in the political arena, responsibility for action lies with the agency itself," said Melissa W. Kasnitz, managing attorney for Disability Rights Advocates, in a telephone interview. Her group is teaming up with a major law firm, Morrison & Foerster, to represent the veterans.
"We don't believe the problems will be fixed by the VA if we wait for them," she said. "In the meantime, it is veterans who risk their lives for our country who are suffering the consequences."
The lawsuit cites violations of the Constitution and federal law, which mandates at least two years of health care to injured veterans.
The veterans groups involved in the lawsuit are Veterans for Common Sense in Washington, D.C., which claims 11,500 members, and Veterans United for Truth, based in Santa Barbara, Calif., with 500 members.
July 17, 2007
Secretary of Veterans
By Christopher Lee, Washington Post Staff Writer
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson announced his resignation today, saying he would step down from his post as head of the federal government's second-largest department no later than October 1.
Nicholson, a decorated Army veteran who served in Vietnam, has held the top job at the VA since 2005. He said in a statement that he plans to return to the private sector but has not lined up a new job.
"It has been an honor and privilege to lead the VA during this historic time for our men and women who have worn the uniform," said Nicholson, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. "This coming February, I turn 70 years old, and I feel it is time for me to get back into business while I still can."
The department has been under intense scrutiny for its treatment of injured veterans returning from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as they transition from the military health care system to the VA system, and for its chronically slow processing of the disability claims of disabled, injured or sick veterans from all eras.
Critics complain about lost paperwork, a shortage of VA caseworkers, a backlog of hundreds of thousands of disability claims, and long waits for veterans trying to get initial appointments in the VA health care system.
Just five months into the job, Nicholson had to ask Congress for an emergency infusion of more than $2 billion because, he said, the Bush administration had vastly underestimated the number of service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan seeking VA medical care. He said the original estimates were based on outdated assumptions from 2002.
"The bottom line is there is a surge in demand in VA [health] services across the board," Nicholson told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in June 2005....
The department, with 243,000 employees and budget of about $70 billion, is the
second-largest in the federal bureaucracy after the Defense Department. It administers
a vast system of 154 medical centers and more than 1,300 clinics that treat about 5.5
million patients a year. But it also handles a wide range of other benefits, including
loans and financial assistance and burial benefits for which about 25 million living
veterans are eligible.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said the next VA secretary must be "a truthful advocate for veterans, not an apologist for this administration's failures to plan."
"The next VA Secretary must have a record of being a strong and independent voice for veterans -- not someone being rewarded for political loyalty," Murray said. "Our veterans deserve to know that the head of the VA system can stand up to the White House and fight for the resources and benefits our veterans need."
Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2007
From: "Marie Buchanan" <email@example.com>
Subject: The death of my husband is due to the Criminal negligence of the Government and expecially the VA Hospital - reply from 48 hours
To: "Jud Witham" <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Truthfarm@yahoogroups.com, email@example.com, "Pat Rylance" <firstname.lastname@example.org>, email@example.com, "Send an Instant Message petes farms" <firstname.lastname@example.org>, email@example.com, Mwalltexan@aol.com, Verachuckendave@aol.com, BlueLori@aol.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, ILLEGALGOH0ME@aol.com, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, Sanfrantammy@aol.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, TheRevolutionaryCoalition@yahoogroups.com, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, Wndbear@aol.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
The death of my husband is due to the Criminal negligence of the Government and expecially the VA Hospital
- reply from 48 hours below. It is what I got after six months of intensive fight.
Also, I am not satisfied with the absolute non-cooperation of the wrongful death Attorneys in the New York State I found. If you know a decent Attorney who is willing to be paid on a contingency basis, I have a case here and I wish to do justice to Ash OR DIE.
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, "Rodney Stich" <firstname.lastname@example.org>, email@example.com, "Me Bite" <GWB_BiteMe@yahoogroups.com>, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, "Stevo" <email@example.com>, firstname.lastname@example.org
~ ~ ~
CND 48Hours <48Hours@cbsnews.com> wrote:
Subject: RE: The death of my husband is due to the Criminal negligence of the Government and especially the VA hospital
Date: Wed, 6 Jun 2007 16:31:47 -0400
From: "CND 48Hours" <48Hours@cbsnews.com>
To: "Marie Buchanan" <email@example.com>
Dear Ms. Buchanan,
Thank you very much for taking the time to write to us at 48 HOURS. We are extremely grateful that you have shared your idea with our broadcast.
We reviewed your material, but after careful consideration, have decided not to report on this matter at the present time. This does not, of course, indicate that the subject is unimportant or uninteresting. 48 HOURS is faced with the enormously difficult task of choosing one topic each week from among hundreds that could conceivably and justifiably be covered. Our goal is to explore a wide variety of stimulating and timely issues. As our broadcast is a single subject for the entire hour, we do find that it's often difficult to do an entire hour on even the most compelling stories. We often share ideas with our colleagues on 60 Minutes. We appreciate your bringing this matter to our attention.
Thank you again for taking the time to send us the information. Whatever subjects 48 HOURS explores in the future, we hope you will find our CBS News broadcast informative and thought-provoking.
From: Marie Buchanan [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Saturday, March 24, 2007 11:50 AM
To: Our groups
Subject: The death of my husband is due to the Criminal negligence of the Government and especially the VA hospital
The death of my husband is due to the Criminal negligence of the Government and especially the VA hospital
Marie M. Buchanan, M.Ps.
Researcher, Webmaster, Pastor-Assistant, Translator, Writer
June 16, 2007
Undelivered Mail Adds to
Walter Reed Troubles
Turns out the trouble at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the focus of a firestorm of criticism over poor treatment of wounded war veterans, reached into the mailroom.
The Army said Friday that it has opened an investigation into the recent discovery of 4,500 letters and parcels — some dating to May 2006 — at Walter Reed that were never delivered to soldiers.
And it fired the contract employee who ran the mailroom.
In an indication of the Army's sensitivity to problems at Walter Reed, whose reputation as the crown jewel in the Army medical system was tarnished by the disclosures of poor treatment of soldiers earlier this year, officials put out a written statement late Friday afternoon detailing the problem with the mail.
Maj. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, commander of Walter Reed, said he ordered a team of 20 to 40 soldiers and civilians to launch an around-the-clock operation to screen, survey and forward all the letters and parcels. Items addressed to soldiers still at Walter Reed were being hand-delivered Friday night, he said.
"This delay is completely and absolutely unsatisfactory," Schoomaker said.
He took over at Walter Reed after the Army fired his predecessor, Maj. Gen. George Weightman, in the wake of Washington Post stories that spelled out substandard living conditions and excessive red tape for soldiers at Walter Reed.
Army Secretary Francis Harvey also was fired in the days following the disclosures.
The acting Army surgeon general, Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, said there have not been any complaints about delayed mail delivery at other Army medical centers. Even so, she said she ordered an immediate review and inspections of mail room procedures and supervisory controls at other medical centers.
May 3, 2007
VA OFFICIALS’ BONUSES
Washington (AP) - Months after a politically embarrassing $1 billion shortfall that put veterans' health care in peril, Veterans Affairs officials involved in the foul-up got hefty bonuses ranging up to $33,000.
The list of bonuses to senior career officials at the Veterans Affairs Department in 2006, obtained by The Associated Press, documents a generous package of more than $3.8 million in payments by a financially strapped agency straining to help care for thousands of injured veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Among those receiving payments were a deputy assistant secretary and several regional directors who crafted the VA's flawed budget for 2005 based on misleading accounting. They received performance payments up to $33,000 each, a figure equal to about 20 percent of their annual salaries.
Also receiving a top bonus was the deputy undersecretary for benefits, who helps manage a disability claims system that has a backlog of cases and delays averaging 177 days in getting benefits to injured veterans.
The bonuses were awarded even after government investigators had determined the VA repeatedly miscalculated — if not deliberately misled taxpayers — with questionable methods used to justify Bush administration cuts to health care amid a burgeoning Iraq war.
Annual bonuses to senior VA officials now average more than $16,000 — the most lucrative in government.
The VA said the payments are necessary to retain hardworking career officials.
Several watchdog groups questioned the practice. They cited short-staffing and underfunding at VA clinics that have become particularly evident after recent disclosures of shoddy outpatient treatment of injured troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
"Hundreds of thousands of our veterans remain homeless every day, and hundreds of thousands more veterans wait six months or more for VA disability claim decisions," said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense. "The lavish amounts of VA bonus cash would be better spent on a robust plan to cut VA red tape."
Sen. Daniel Akaka, chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, said the payments pointed to an improper "entitlement for the most centrally placed or well-connected staff."
Seeking an explanation from Secretary Jim Nicholson, Akaka also asked the department to outline steps to address disparities in which Washington-based senior officials got higher payments than their counterparts elsewhere.
"Awards should be determined according to performance," said Akaka, D-Hawaii. "I am concerned by this generous pat on the back for those who failed to ensure that their budget requests accurately reflected VA's needs."
A VA spokesman, Matt Burns, said the department was reviewing Akaka's request. Burns contended that many of the senior officials had been with the department for years, with an expertise that could not be replicated immediately if they were to leave for the more profitable private sector.
"Rewarding knowledgeable and professional career public servants is entirely appropriate," he said. "The importance of retaining committed career leaders in any government organization cannot be overstated."
In 2006, the VA officials receiving top bonuses included Rita Reed, the deputy assistant secretary for budget, and William Feeley, a former VA network director who is now deputy undersecretary for health for operations and management.
Also receiving $33,000 was Ronald Aument, the deputy undersecretary for benefits, who helps oversee the strained and backlogged claims system that Nicholson now says is unacceptable.
The bonuses are determined by the heads of the VA's various divisions, based in part on performance evaluations. All requests are submitted to Nicholson for final approval.
In July 2005, the VA stunned Congress by suddenly announcing it faced a $1 billion shortfall after failing to take into account the additional cost of caring for veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The admission, months after the department insisted it was operating within its means and did not need additional money, drew harsh criticism from both parties and some calls for Nicholson's resignation.
The investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office, determined the VA had used misleading accounting methods and claimed false savings of more than $1.3 billion, apparently because President Bush was not willing, at the time, to ask Congress for more money.
According to the White House Office of Personnel Management, roughly three of every four senior officials at the VA have received some kind of bonus each year. In recent years, the payment amount has steadily increased from being one of the lowest in government — $8,120 in 2002 — to the most generous — $16,713 in 2005.
In contrast, just over half the senior officials at the Energy Department in 2005 received an average bonus of $9,064. Across all government agencies, about two-thirds of employees received bonuses, which averaged $13,814 in 2005, the most recent data available.
Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said the VA bonuses appeared to reflect a trend in government in which performance bonuses were increasingly used to reward loyal associates and longtime employees.
Put in place shortly after the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, executive bonuses were designed to increase accountability in government by tying raises more closely to performance. But while bonuses can help retain key employees, damage can be done when payments turn into an automatic handout regardless of performance, Ellis said.
"Simply put, people who nearly shortchanged our veterans shouldn't get a bonus check at the end of the year," he said.
Joe Davis, spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, one of the nation's largest veterans groups, agreed. His organization is awaiting Nicholson's explanation, saying that the budget shortfall was partly to blame for backlogs and other problems.
"No one joins the government to get rich, and the bonus may be used as a retention tool to keep the best and the brightest, but it must be performance-based in award to be fair and impartial," Davis said. "Anything else could be viewed as favoritism."
March 11, 2007
Akaka faces formidable task in
oversight of veterans committee
The Department of Veterans Affairs is being criticized for its red tape and inadequacy in providing care to wounded soldiers.
AN outburst of revelations about the inadequate care of soldiers wounded in the Iraq war has turned the spotlight on what is classified as a second-tier Senate committee, headed by Sen. Daniel Akaka. The Hawaii senator has been sensitive in responding to the attention as the new chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee and faces a serious challenge in the months and years ahead.
The veterans committee is among four panels described in Senate rules as "Class B" committees, behind a dozen committees given greater importance. Reports emerging from the Washington Post series about Walter Reed Army Medical Center show that Senate evaluation of its structure doesn't necessarily reflect public concern.
In more than 16 years on the committee, and as its ranking Democrat in the last Republican Congress, Akaka is well-versed on the issues. At a hearing last week, he expressed confidence in the Department of Veterans Affairs but called for "improvements" and a $2.9 billion increase to the Bush administration's proposed VA budget of $86.7 billion.
Fallout from the VA problems might compare with that following the Walter Reed reports, which led to the firing of the secretary of the Army and the Walter Reed commander. Public scrutiny now is directed at Jim Nicholson, a Vietnam War veteran and past chairman of the Republican National Committee, who was appointed by Bush to be secretary of the VA in 2005.
Akaka claims a "productive working relationship" with Sen. Larry Craig, the committee's ranking Republican and past chairman. However, Craig last week proposed allowing disabled veterans to seek treatment at any hospital, not just from the VA, apparently without consulting Akaka, whose spokeswoman said he had "not had time to review it."
Craig earlier in the week suggested Nicholson and the VA are victims of political maneuvering. "People now want to say that not only are they against the war and the way the president has handled it," Craig told the New York Times, "but now they want to take aim at the way the government takes care of the veterans." Akaka has been a strident opponent of the war.
Criticism of the VA is mounting. The Times reported two days ago that disabled veterans face serious inequities in compensation depending on where they live and whether they were active duty or members of the National Guard or Reserve.
Annual disability payments from the VA in 2006 averaged $4,962 for active duty soldiers and $3,603 for Guard and Reserve members. The same factors also determine whether some soldiers wait nearly twice as long to receive benefits, according to the Times analysis of VA figures.
Such inequities are unfair to Guard and Reserve members who are doing front-line duty, often for multiple tours, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and must be corrected.
Oahu Publications, Inc. publishes
the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, MidWeek
and military newspapers
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
David Black, Dan Case, Dennis Francis,
Larry Johnson, Duane Kurisu, Warren Luke,
Colbert Matsumoto, Jeffrey Watanabe, Michael Wo
~ ~ ~
March 8, 2007
Veterans suffer as VA
delays disability claims
By Dennis Camire. Advertiser Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — More than a quarter of military veterans with disability cases before the Department of Veterans Affairs wait six months or longer for the agency's decision, creating financial hardships for them and their families, veterans advocates say.
Joe Violante, national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans, said even though the compensation isn't that much, the delay in getting it sometimes leads to bankruptcy and homelessness.
"Some veterans have died while their claims ... were unresolved for years at VA," Violante told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i.
VA compensation for a single veteran ranges from $2,471 a month for someone rated as 100 percent disabled to $348 for someone considered 30 percent disabled.
"In many cases, that may be the only income they have coming in at the time," Violante said. "The longer that is delayed, the harder it is for them to get their lives back on track and to take care of their families."
Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said he received a letter from a disabled Iraq war veteran who the VA told would not be receiving his first disability payment for six to eight months because the agency was running behind.
"My question is how am I supposed to survive until I start my disability pay," Rockefeller read, during a meeting yesterday of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. "I have rent, truck payments, utilities, food and child support to pay. Will I be evicted from my apartment and have to live in my truck until it's repossessed?"
401,000 PENDING CASES
As of March 3, the VA had almost 401,000 pending cases for disability compensation with almost 115,000 languishing for six months or more.
The numbers have been climbing in recent years with disability cases increasing by almost 29,000 since last year, partly because of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Those wars have seen more than 1.45 million active-duty, National Guard and Reserve troops deployed. Of those, about 685,000 have since been discharged.
"I think it is clear to everyone here that the system overall is struggling and some veterans are waiting far too long for decisions," said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
But the VA problems also are unrelated to recent news accounts about the Defense Department holding injured active-duty troops at Walter Reed Medical Center for long periods awaiting decisions from medical boards on their ability to rejoin the military and if not, their compensation.
To deal with its problem of delays, the VA wants to hire more caseworkers next year and continue its program to improve computer technology.
MORE THAN EXPECTED
But Akaka said he was concerned the VA budget was based on erroneous workload projections that didn't increase through the end of 2008. In reality, the VA received 8 percent more claims than expected in the final three months of 2006.
"Without prompt action, we will fail to keep our promise to provide timely and accurate decisions to veterans," he said.
One problem causing serious delays is the transfer of electronic medical files for veterans from the Pentagon to the VA.
The two departments are still unable to share electronic medical records through their computer systems, despite years of work now two years past deadline.
Craig said the U.S. military is the most modernized one in the world, but still can't share records electronically with the VA.
"I don't know what it takes to turn a battleship around, other than hit it with a torpedo, maybe," said a frustrated Craig.
James P. Terry, VA undersecretary for benefits, told the committee the delays were being caused by an increasingly heavier load of cases that have grown more complex to decide.
In 2000, about 579,000 disability cases were filed, increasing to 806,000 last year, Terry said.
"It is expected that this high level of claims activity will continue over the next five years," Terry said.
March 8, 2007
House panel says Walter Reed
problems extend to VA hospitals
By Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Substandard care at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center appears to extend to the nation’s vast network of veterans hospitals, the head of a House panel investigating the situation said Thursday.
Rep. Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz., cited recent audits and reports that pointed to confusing paperwork and poor health care coordination as well as backlogs in the treatment of returning service members who were deemed at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“That’s unacceptable and embarrassing, and the American people deserve answers,” Mitchell said in remarks prepared for a hearing late Thursday. ”I’m not convinced the Veterans Affairs Department is doing its part.”
Following revelations of poor conditions and neglect in Walter Reed’s outpatient care, the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee was investigating problems at more than 1,400 VA hospitals and clinics.
The VA facilities provide supplemental health care and rehabilitation to 5.8 million veterans after they are treated at military hospitals such as Walter Reed.
In his statement, Mitchell questioned whether Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson was doing enough for veterans, citing complaints by a former VA project manager, Paul Sullivan.
Sullivan was expected to testify late Thursday that Nicholson had shelved a proposal to alleviate long delays for health care and benefit payments because he was too concerned about the $1 million price tag.
We have a responsibility to make sure that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is doing its job to make that transition as easy as possible,” Mitchell said.
Thursday’s hearing is the latest to examine the quality of care by wounded veterans in the wake of disclosures of shoddy outpatient health care at Walter Reed, one of the nation’s premier facilities for treating veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since the report last month by the Washington Post, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has forced Army Secretary Francis Harvey to resign and Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, who was in charge of Walter Reed since August 2006, was ousted from his post.
President Bush has also appointed a bipartisan commission to investigate problems at the nation’s military and veteran hospitals, and separate reviews are under way by the Pentagon, the Army and an interagency task force led by Nicholson.
Earlier in the week, Nicholson defended his agency’s efforts to serve veterans but made clear that he would not tolerate substandard conditions. The VA has recently expanded the network of centers designed to provide care to those with traumatic brain injury and will be screening all patients who served in combat for post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.
“If even one of these young men or women does not receive needed care, that is one too many, and we will do all within our power to ensure such a situation is rectified,” Nicholson wrote Wednesday in a letter to the House committee.
House panel says Walter Reed problems extend to VA hospitals
During the hearing Thursday, Cynthia Bascetta, director of health care at GAO, testified that investigators over the years had pinpointed several problems involving coordination between the Defense Department and the VA in providing health care.
While some improvements have been made, GAO investigators could not offer assurances that problems of veterans falling through the cracks wouldn’t happen again, according to Bascetta’s prepared testimony.
Among the problems:
_The Defense Department had difficulty sharing medical records the VA needed to provide rehabilitative care. Because there was no real-time electronic access for most facilities, VA officials typically had to go through a cumbersome process of faxing material back and forth.
_Six of seven VA medical facilities visited by the GAO expressed concerns about the growing demand for PTSD treatment from returning service members. They estimated that delays could be as long as 90 days.
March 6, 2007
Dole, Shalala to investigate
Walter Reed problems
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Tuesday named Democrat Donna Shalala and Republican Bob Dole to head a commission to investigate problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Shalala is a former secretary of health and human services; Dole is a former GOP presidential nominee.
Substandard conditions and a confusing bureaucracy at an outpatient facility at Walter Reed for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were revealed in a series of articles in the Washington Post in February.
"It's unacceptable to me, it's unacceptable to you, it's unacceptable to our country, and it's not going to continue," Bush said in a speech to the American Legion in Washington.
"My decisions have put our kids in harm's way. And I'm concerned about the fact that when they come back they don't get the full treatment they deserve."...
Bush said the commission will also examine whether similar problems exist at other military and veterans' hospitals.
Shalala served for eight years in the Clinton administration and is currently president of the University of Miami.
Dole, a wounded World War II veteran, was a senator from Kansas for 27 years and served as Senate majority leader before his retirement from Congress. He was the Republican nominee for president in 1996.
Also Tuesday, senators on the Armed Services Committee were questioning senior members of the military about the problems.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker and Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley testified before the panel. Kiley was in charge of Walter Reed from 2000 until 2004.
The Washington Post series documented a variety of problems at "Building 18," a one-time motel converted to a long-term outpatient dormitory at the Washington hospital. The newspaper found troops who lost limbs and suffered traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress were quartered for months in moldy and rodent-infested rooms with inadequate follow-up care.
Monday, witnesses told a House panel that wounded U.S. soldiers are forced to struggle against a nightmarish and untrustworthy Army medical system that leaves veterans stranded in unfit conditions.
Two Iraq war veterans and the wife of a third gave heartbreaking tales of neglect at the now notorious Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Annette McLeod, wife of Cpl. Wendell McLeod, who received an injury to his head in the war, said her husband "has been through the nightmares of the Army medical system."
"This is how we treat our soldiers -- we give them nothing," she said. "They're good enough to go and sacrifice their life, and we give them nothing. You need to fix the system."
The panel chairman, Rep. John Tierney, called "the unsanitary conditions" and other problems at Walter Reed hospital "appalling."
Maj. Gen. George Weightman, whose duties included overseeing the facility before he was fired over the scandal, said, "It is clear mistakes were made, and I was in charge. We can't fail one of these soldiers or their families, not one, and we did."
Acting Secretary of the Army Peter Geren told the committee that "we have let some soldiers down."
"We're going to fix that problem," Geren said.
Geren stepped into his role after Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey's resignation Friday. In addition to Harvey's resignation, the outcry over the conditions some outpatient soldiers faced at Walter Reed led to Weightman's removal.
From Open Secrets:
Prior to taking the helm of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Jim Nicholson spent three years as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. But he was better known as the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, a position he held from 1997 to 2000. Under his watch, the RNC raised more than $379 million during the 2000 election cycle (the DNC raised only $261 million during that time).
Securities and investment firms contributed $22 million to the RNC that cycle, more than any other industry.
Nicholson was an Army Ranger and a paratrooper for eight years during the Vietnam War and retired as a colonel after 22 years in the Army Reserve. Nicholson took charge of 219,000 personnel in a department that is the second largest in the federal government and is responsible for a nationwide system of health care services, benefits programs and national cemeteries for veterans and their dependents. Nicholson, who practiced law in Colorado until 1978 and went on to develop real estate in the state, replaced Secretary Anthony Principi.
Nicholson's brother, retired Brig. Gen. John W. Nicholson, is under secretary of Veterans Affairs and directs the National Cemetery Administration.
~ ~ ~
August 9, 2006
From the Denver Post:
2nd VA data loss prompts
Senators argued Tuesday over whether Veterans Affairs Secretary James Nicholson should be held accountable following the second disappearance of a computer containing veterans' personal information.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called for to Nicholson, a former Colorado developer, to "resign immediately." Other Democrats questioned his leadership.
Nicholson announced the second disappearance Monday. A subcontractor, Unisys Corp., told the department last week that a desktop computer was missing from its Reston, Va. offices.
It included data on 38,000 veterans who received medical treatment in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
From KAUM News:
KUAM News has obtained copies of several e-mail messages sent from super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to Carl Taitano, the campaign adviser for the Joe Ada-Felix Camacho gubernatorial team. In the December 15, 1998 e-mail Abramoff writes to Taitano about his "non-stop" efforts with the Republican National Committee on getting a big endorsement with congressional members' signatures.
Additionally Abramoff worked to get backing from groups like Americans for Tax Reform and then-RNC chairman Jim Nicholson. Abramoff wrote in one such e-mail to Taitano, "onward to victory". The messages also reveal that Abramoff was attempting to get congressional members and their staff to assist in the Guam race efforts.
When the congressional e-mail went down Abramoff wrote, "we will have to call each member to get them on board. The list that we are working needs to be expanded. I know that this is an unusual request, but if you can drop everything you are doing before the deadline tomorrow, and get others to call as well it would be very helpful."
One message was also sent to former senator Mark Charfauros, who could not be reached for comment.
September 5, 2006
Jim Nicholson Joins Straight Talk America as
Michigan Finance Chairman
ALEXANDRIA, VA - Straight Talk America announced today that Jim Nicholson will serve as the Michigan State Finance Chairman of the PAC.
In recent months Mr. Nicholson helped coordinate a forum of prominent, politically active business figures from Michigan to talk with various national leaders about the 2006 elections and beyond. After several similar meetings, Mr. Nicholson determined he wanted to help Senator McCain’s Straight Talk America.
“Senator McCain has the foreign policy expertise and ability to help lead our nation in these critical times,” said Jim Nicholson. “We will put together a top-notch fundraising operation that will be second to none in Michigan and across the country.”
I appreciate Jim Nicholson’s years of service to the Republican Party and to philanthropic organizations across Michigan,” said Senator John McCain. “I am proud to call Jim my friend and look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead.”
A Bush Ranger in 2004 and a Bush Pioneer in 2000, Mr. Nicholson also served as Finance Chairman for U.S. Senate candidate Keith Butler and has held finance leadership roles for a number of Michigan candidates including gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos, former Governor John Engler, Attorney General Mike Cox, and various Supreme Court candidates. He ran for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in 1996....
Mr. Nicholson is Chairman of the Board of the Amerisure Companies and a member of the board for both the Handleman Company and LaSalle Bank. He is Chairman of the Board of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Chair of the metropolitan area's Tourism Economic Development Council and a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Detroit Renaissance. Nicholson is a current member and past chairman of the Wayne County Airport Authority, Detroit Public Television, the Michigan Chapter of the Nature Conservancy and the YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit boards.
A Detroit native, Nicholson and his wife Ann reside in Grosse Pointe Farms.
# # #
MORE TO COME
MEANWHILE, PLEASE VISIT THE NEW CATBIRD SEAT FOR THE LATEST VAMPIRE SIGHTINGS.
VILLAGERS OF THE WORLD...GRAB YOUR TORCHES AND STAKES!
...before it’s too late!!!
* * * * *
December 8, 2006
"No American is above the law"
by Cynthia McKinney
Rep. McKinney's floor statement on
the impeachment of George W. Bush
~ ~ ~
I come before this body today as a proud American and as a servant of the American people, sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States.
Throughout my tenure, I’ve always tried to speak the truth. It’s that commitment that brings me here today.
We have a President who has misgoverned and a Congress that has refused to hold him accountable. It is a grave situation and I believe the stakes for our country are high.
No American is above the law, and if we allow a President to violate, at the most basic and fundamental level, the trust of the people and then continue to govern, without a process for holding him accountable — what does that say about our commitment to the truth? To the Constitution? To our democracy?
The trust of the American people has been broken. And a process must be undertaken to repair this trust. This process must begin with honesty and accountability.
Leading up to our invasion of Iraq, the American people supported this Administration’ s actions because they believed in our President. They believed he was acting in good faith.
They believed that American laws and American values would be respected. That in the weightiness of everything being considered, two values were rock solid—trust and truth.
From mushroom clouds to African yellow cake to aluminum tubes, the American people and this Congress were not presented the facts, but rather were presented a string of untruths, to justify the invasion of Iraq.
President Bush, along with Vice President Cheney and then-National Security Advisor Rice, portrayed to the Congress and to the American people that Iraq represented an imminent threat, culminating with President Bush’s claim that Iraq was six months away from developing a nuclear weapon. Having used false fear to buy consent — the President then took our country to war.
This has grave consequences for the health of our democracy, for our standing with our allies, and most of all, for the lives of our men and women in the military and their families — who have been asked to make sacrifices — including the ultimate sacrifice — to keep us safe.
Just as we expect our leaders to be truthful, we expect them to abide by the law and respect our courts and judges. Here again, the President failed the American people.
When President Bush signed an executive order authorizing unlawful spying on American citizens, he circumvented the courts, the law, and he violated the separation of powers provided by the Constitution. Once the program was revealed, he then tried to hide the scope of his offense from the American people by making contradictory, untrue statements.
President George W. Bush has failed to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States; he has failed to ensure that senior members of his administration do the same; and he has betrayed the trust of the American people.
With a heavy heart and in the deepest spirit of patriotism, I exercise my duty and responsibility to speak truthfully about what is before us. To shy away from this responsibility would be easier. But I have not been one to travel the easy road. I believe in this country, and in the power of our democracy. I feel the steely conviction of one who will not let the country I love descend into shame; for the fabric of our democracy is at stake.
Some will call this a partisan vendetta, others will say this is an unimportant distraction to the plans of the incoming Congress. But this is not about political gamesmanship.
I am not willing to put any political party before my principles.
This, instead, is about beginning the long road back to regaining the high standards of truth and democracy upon which our great country was founded.
Under the standards set by the United States Constitution, President Bush — along with Vice President Cheney, and Secretary of State Rice — should be subject to the process of impeachment, and I have filed H. Res. 1106 in the House of Representatives.
To my fellow Americans, as I leave this Congress, it is in your hands — to hold your representatives accountable, and to show those with the courage to stand for what is right, that they do not stand alone.
"Our safety, our liberty, depends upon preserving the Constitution of the United States as our Fathers made it inviolate. The people of the United States are the rightful masters of both Congress and the Courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution."
-- Abraham Lincoln
IRAQ BODY COUNT
t t t t t
National Priorities Project - Cost of War
$ $ $ $ $
A Timeline of Oil and Violence in Iraq
t t t t t
WASHINGTON D.C. PEACE MARCH
The Dixie Chicks: “I Hope”
THE EAGLE HOODED:
THE 9-11 COVERUP
PART I - PART II - PART III
The Real Cindy Sheehan
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THE MOVEMENT TO IMPEACH BUSH
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VOTE TO IMPEACH BUSH
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A Connecticut Yankee in King Kamehameha’s Court
A Flock of Elephants
Aloha, Harken Energy
Another Reason for Bringing the Troops Home
APCOA: Vultures in the Parking Lot
An Octopus Named Wackenhut
Axis of Evil
Birds on the Power Lines
Birds that Drink from Cesspools
The Blackstone Group
Blessed Are The Peacemakers
The Bribes & Boondoggles of Boeing
The Buzzards of Bechtel
The Chubb Group
Citigroup: Vampires in the City
Condoleezza & The Chicken Hawks
Confessions of a Whistleblower
Dahr Jamail’s MidEast Dispatches
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Dirty Money, Dirty Politics & Bishop Estate
Down the Rabbit-Hole
The Drug Vultures
Dying for DynCorp
The Torch of Eric Shine
8th Estate Public Media & Researh
Flying High in Hawaii: The Ron Rewald Story
The Freedom To Sing
Hail to The Chief
Halliburton from Hell
HUD: The Housing & Urban Disaster
Iraq Peace Team
It’s the OIL, STUPID!
Journey with Abdul Hakim
The Kissinger of Death
Living With War Today
Marsh & McLennan: The Marsh Birds
Nests in the Pentagon
Nests of The Insurance Vampires
Of Vampires and Daisies
Oxford Research Group
The Peregrine Gallery
The Great Nest Egg Robberies
Tarnished Wings: The Greed at Lockheed
The American Red Double-Cross
Sukamto Sia: The Indonesian Connection
The Nests of Osama bin Laden
The Nuclear Nests
The Secret Nests
The Silence of the Whistleblowers
The Sinking of the Ehime Maru
The Stephen Friedman Flock
The Story of Enron
The Strange Saga of BCCI
The United Defense Industries Matrix
United for Peace and Justice
Thorns in the Rose Garden
The Torch of Eric Shine
Tracking the Titan
Uncle Sam’s Guinea Pigs
Veterans for Peace
Vultures in The Nature Conservancy
War Images from “Scoop” Independent News
Who’s Guarding the Hen House?
WTO: The Wealthy Taking Over
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Originally posted: May 5, 2007
Last Update September 22, 2010, by The Catbird