Veterans news update for Oct. 8

Veterans news update for Oct. 8

Veterans news updateTables turn on VA watchdog as link between neglect, death fails to emerge (Washington Times)
He’s the man leading the investigation into problems at the VA, but Inspector General Richard J. Griffin himself is increasingly under scrutiny for his conclusions, which have failed to find any exact link between veterans’ deaths and botched care. Griffin, who has been acting chief of the 669-person IG’s office since January, vehemently defends his work and bristles at accusations from both veterans groups and members of Congress that he’s compromised the IG’s integrity. But it’s not the first time he’s faced these kinds of questions, dating back to a previous stint at the helm of the VA inspector general’s office in the 1990s, when he was accused of “shoddy” investigations six months into that tenure.

New Veterans Affairs leaders say whistleblowers officially welcome (New Orleans Times-Picayune)
Three federal whistleblowers, who exposed abuses in veterans’ health care and paid a severe price via retaliation by their bosses, have received unspecified monetary settlements. And Department of Veterans Affairs officials say the agency’s new system to protect employees who report problems has won certification from a federal oversight agency. The new whistleblower protection steps include a message to all VA employees about the importance of whistleblowers, and informing supervisors that they have a special responsibility to enforce all whistleblower protection laws.

The $1,000 pill that could cripple the VA’s budget (The Fiscal Times)
The VA, still reeling from a scandal over the negligent treatment of veterans seeking medical care that may have contributed to some deaths, has a new problem on its hands. While struggling to beef up its medical staff and sharply reduce the time it takes veterans to get appointments at health facilities, the staggering cost of Sovaldi, a specialty drug to treat Hepatitis C, is threatening to blow a $1.3 billion hole in the agency’s budget in the next two years. It’s a fiscal crisis that could force deep agency cutbacks in other areas. The issue first surfaced in July when the embattled VA gave the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee a $17.6 billion wish list of resources to begin delivering high quality and timely health care to veterans. VA officials complained that the unexpectedly high cost of using Sovaldi was eating away at their budget.

Adding up bonuses for VA officials in Colorado (KUSA-TV)
Members of both political parties are calling for change after learning about bonuses awarded to Denver-area VA officials. KUSA-TV obtained VA data showing that executives nationwide have received $23 million in bonuses since 2007. “It seems to be in the Veterans Administration, if you are in leadership, as long as you have a pulse, you are going to get a bonus,” said Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colorado). “I think it’s fundamentally wrong.” “It’s absolutely outrageous,” said Andrew Romanoff, a Democrat challenging Coffman for his 6th District seat. The 6th District includes a new VA medical center that is now under construction. The head of the Denver VA, Lynette Roff, is near the top of the bonus list. She raked in nearly $110,000 over the past seven years.
Allegations of unsafe practices at Fayetteville VA hospital under review (Fayetteville Observer)
Investigators are reviewing allegations of “unfair and unsafe practices” in the Fayetteville VA Medical Center’s Department of Surgery. The allegations, outlined in a copy of a letter that was sent to The Fayetteville Observer by “concerned surgical staff” at the Fayetteville VA, detail practices the anonymous writers said are “discriminatory and have placed our veterans at risk for delayed care and increased surgical complications.” The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of the Inspector General is reviewing the allegations, a spokeswoman for the office said. There is no timetable for a final report.
Skepticism from Congress on VA firings (WSB-Radio)
The news releases in recent days seemed simple enough, as the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it is moving to get rid of a series of top officials at VA facilities around the nation – but the Chairman of the House Veterans Committee says he’s worried the VA has given these executives an extra chance to retire before being fired. “VA interprets the law differently than our intent,” Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) told me on Tuesday, saying his goal in a recent VA reform law was to have VA officials fired with “no notice.” “By creating an added appeals process in which VA employees are given advance notice of the department’s plans to fire them, VA appears to be giving failing executives an opportunity to quit, retire or find new jobs without consequence – something we have already seen happen in recent weeks,” Miller added in a written statement issued on Tuesday.

Lawmaker questions VA exec’s management of benefits appeals (Stars & Stripes)
A House panel says the head of the VA’s Board of Veterans’ Appeals continues to mismanage the legal office and may have been “untruthful” in her sworn congressional testimony claiming improvements in processing vet appeals last month. Despite reassurances to lawmakers, Board Vice Chairman Laura Eskenazi appears to have still promoted unqualified attorneys, not properly advertised open job positions and created new employee positions that will not decrease the board’s growing backlog, according to Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo.