Veterans Affairs has the worst ratio of ethics officials to employees, review says (New York Daily News)
A new review shows the Department of Veterans Affairs has the worst ratio of ethics officials per employees of all cabinet-level agencies, as more than 100 VA employees complain of retaliation for filing whistleblower reports to expose wrongdoing at Veterans hospitals. Of the 15 government departments reviewed by the Office of Government Ethics, the VA showed meager ethics resources (18 full-time staff) for its workforce of 342,291 employees — a ratio of one ethics officer per 18,674 agency employees. That far surpasses all other agencies — the USDA came second with 4,583 employees per ethics officials.
Lawmakers demand answers on Legionnaires’ outbreak from new VA secretary (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Six congressional Republicans are asking the secretary of Veterans Affairs to intervene personally in their attempt to find out who was disciplined over a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at VA Pittsburgh. “The lack of responsiveness and bureaucratic stonewalling is unacceptable, and we believe this now deserves your immediate and personal attention,” states the letter dated Oct. 1 to Secretary Robert McDonald. Three Western Pennsylvania House members, two committee chairs and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Lehigh County signed the letter. Members of Congress have repeatedly asked for details about discipline in the nearly two years since VA officials disclosed the outbreak.
Congress will put Philadelphia VA under further scrutiny (Washington Times)
Oscar the Grouch will have lots of company in his garbage can on Friday. Despite President Obama ordering a new “culture of accountability” at the Department of Veterans Affairs, a congressional hearing on Friday will focus on persistent management problems at the agency’s Philadelphia office, where complaints range from phony record keeping to managers comparing veterans to the Sesame Street character Oscar to allegations that a VA manager encouraged employees to pay his wife to read their fortunes. The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs will hold the hearing at a community college in Burlington County, New Jersey, which is part of the Philadelphia regional office’s three-state coverage area. A committee spokesman said the probe will focus on “mismanagement, cooking the books in order to make the backlog of claims appear smaller and low employee morale.”
Under investigation at the VA, official sought to move to Energy Department (Washington Times)
The central figure in a Department of Veterans Affairs procurement scandal, whom investigators accused of strong-arming the agency to hire a well-connected firm then lying about it, was set to begin a new job overseeing contracts for the Department of Energy (DOE) starting next week, according to an internal announcement. Days before the VA’s Office of Inspector General released a devastating report that found Susan Taylor, deputy chief of procurement for the Veterans Health Administration, “continually lied” about her dealings with FedBid, an internal personnel announcement at the DOE disclosed her new job as director of procurement. A DOE source familiar with the situation, who was not authorized to speak about personnel matters, told The Washington Times that Ms. Taylor will not be working for the agency.
VA botched handling of suicidal marine, judge rules (Associated Press)
A federal judge in Kentucky has found that a Veterans Affairs hospital mishandled a suicidal Marine who went to a medical facility seeking help before killing himself. U.S. District Judge David Bunning concluded that the VA had a duty to help 21-year-old Cameron Anestis of Georgetown when he went to one of two locations in Lexington. Anestis, a lance corporal in the Marine reserves, went to a Lexington VA medical center for evaluation and treatment on Aug. 16, 2009, but was turned away after being told treatment wasn’t available there. Anestis went to a second VA center in Lexington the next day and again was rejected for not having a form showing he was a combat veteran.
American Legion demands investigation into conditions at Shreveport VA hospital (Watchdog.org)
The American Legion says it’s “angered” to read a Watchdog report the Shreveport (La.) Veterans Administration hospital goes without linens and toiletries while spending millions on non-essentials. The organization will provide $5,000 worth of emergency supplies within a few days. “If more is needed, more will be provided,” the Legion’s national commander, Michael D. Helm, said in a statement. “While the American Legion family is more than happy to provide this assistance, it is very disturbing that such help is needed.”
New program helps families of fallen access education (Air Force Times)
Even with hundreds of millions of dollars in scholarship money and education benefits available for spouses and children of fallen service members, many of those families struggle to pay for college because they don’t know the benefits exist, or have trouble accessing them, a nonprofit group says. So the group, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, has announced its new program offering an online portal at www.taps.org/edu/ to help families identify scholarships and education benefits, as well as get one-on-one guidance through the maze. Since a pilot program began in January, TAPS has helped 420 survivors with their education benefits, said Bonnie Carroll, the group’s CEO and founder, at an event in Washington, D.C., announcing the new program, which in its pilot phase alone has helped 140 widows and children submit information and applications.
Star-studded Veterans’ Day concert coming to DC (The Hill)
Eminem, Jamie Foxx, Rihanna, Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, and Carrie Underwood are all headed to Washington for a first-of-its-kind Veterans Day concert just steps from the Capitol. The “Concert for Valor” will be hosted by HBO and Starbucks, the two companies announced. Among the other entertainers and presenters expected at the Nov. 11 live event on the National Mall: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, the Zac Brown Band, Steven Spielberg, Dave Grohl, and John Oliver.
Oak Ridge Boys to the VA: Get your butts in gear (Washington Post)
Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys has a message for the Department of Veterans Affairs: “Get your butts in gear and look after our kids coming home.” He’s speaking in his new official capacity, since the “The Oaks” are the new spokesband, as it were, for the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans organization. The group wants to improve detection and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, in addition to helping veterans with the often tedious VA benefits process. It also plans to participate in a national fundraising and awareness campaign to support the detection and treatment of mental health issues among veterans.