Eye Opener: A VA Scandal Scorecard
Happy Tuesday! It's been a rough few months for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which faces several scandals related to the medical care and benefits provided to veterans, the illegal behavior of former officials and headaches caused by policies started during the Bush administration.
VA officials stress that things will improve in the coming years as Secretary Eric K. Shinseki works on creating "a 21st Century Department of Veterans' Affairs." President Obama's proposed 15 percent budget increase for fiscal year 2010 is also seen as a needed financial boost.
The department also has announced plans to make it easier for veterans seeking compensation for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Under a rule proposed Monday in the Federal Register, VA will reduce the evidence needed if the stress is related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity. A final regulation will be published later.
But that news has been drowned out by various reports of waste, fraud, abuse, poor medical treatment and confusing policies. Here's a quick scorecard to help you keep track (read it then leave your thoughts in the comments section below):
• "Your Life, Your Choices" or, "The Death Book for Veterans": Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) is calling on the department to end its use of end-of-life planning documents. This all flared up last week when Jim Towey, former director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed about "Your Life, Your Choices," (pdf) a document that provides tips and information about end-of-life planning. It was first published by the Veterans Hospital Administration in the 1990s and further developed by the Bush administration to provide VA staffers with medical guidance for veterans and their families. Towey wrote that the document "presents end-of-life choices in a way aimed at steering users toward predetermined conclusions, much like a political 'push poll.'" The VA says the document was endorsed in 2007 by a panel of experts that included medical and religious representatives. Towey's op-ed caught the attention of "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace, who invited him to on the show to discuss his column and then asked VA Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth to explain the department's use of the document. She said the department is revising the document and a spokeswoman says the new version should be ready by March 2010. Specter, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee wrote to the panel's chairman Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) that “I believe it would be helpful...to hold a hearing on this document and the issues raised therein to determine what range of counseling is appropriate for the Veterans Administration on this issue."
• VA Office of Information and Technology's Waste, Fraud Abuse: Classic government scandals -- complete with nepotism and sex -- all stemming from two inspector general reports released last week. The first report reveals that former Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology Robert Howard engaged in an "inappropriate personal relationship" with Katherine Adair Martinez, a former deputy assistant secretary in VA's Office of Information and Technology. As NextGov's Gautham Nagesh scooped last week: "the two began an 'inappropriate personal relationship' in April 2007 that lasted until a few months after Howard left VA in January of this year." Both Howard and Martinez are married to other people, but colleagues within the department knew the two were linked romantically. The second report alleges that Howard's former executive assistant, Jennifer Duncan, violated federal law and engaged in nepotism by hiring relatives and friends into VA positions. She also approved more than $140,000 in funds to pay for friends and relatives to get graduate degrees from universities. VA says it's "aggressively pursuing a thorough review of the situation" and does not condone such behavior.
• Problems With Endoscopic Procedures: As of Aug. 3, eight veterans and VA patients have tested positive for HIV, 12 for hepatitis B and 37 for hepatitis C after three facilities discovered they did not properly sterilize equipment used in endoscopic procedures. As The Post's Steve Vogel reports, lawyers predict a case recently filed in Miami marks the beginning of a rush of lawsuits against VA alleging negligence in the handling of medical equipment. A Nashville lawyers is preparing to file claims on behalf of a dozen veterans as well as 50 to 60 emotional-distress claims from veterans and family members. VA continues to provide updates on patient testing and says it will continue to inform potentially infected patients "regardless of risk, cause, or harm."
• Veterans Benefits Administration Backlog: The number of unresolved disability claims has soared to at least 1 million claims, according to the American Legion, which joined lawmakers and other groups earlier this year in asking VA to overhaul how it handles cases. VA says the 1 million figure is misleading and that it's incorrect to refer to it as "backlog." President Obama last week said he'll ask rank-and-file VA employees to submit ideas on how to ease the backlog. And yes -- he used the word backlog.
Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Chat With The Eye!: Join The Eye for the Post Politics Hour at 11 a.m. ET today. He'll entertain your queries on the CIA developments, the health care reform battle, President Obama's vacation plans, and his own vacation plans! Submit questions here.
• Obama to Nominate Bernanke to 2nd Term: The nation's top banker -- and the rest of the economic team -- stay in place. The announcement is timed 30 minutes before OMB releases the FY '10 mid-session budget review... hmm...
• Holder Pick for CIA Investigation Known as Tough, Diligent: Justice Department leaders representing both political parties have turned to John H. Durham for most of his three-decade legal career to unravel their most vexing and sensational problems.
• Auto Industry Braces for Hangover After 'Clunker' Party: In back offices, accountants and other dealership workers sat at their computers until the wee hours of Sunday morning, uploading applications to the government's Web site. The online system crashed several times, forcing transportation officials to extend the deadline until noon Tuesday for dealers to submit their paperwork.
• OPM Decides to Keep Application Form on USAJobs: The Optional Form Application for Federal Employment collects information similar to what's found on a standard résumé. But it also includes two questions that are important to federal agencies when they make hiring decisions.
• Hotel Per Diems to Decline in Some Large Cities: Six of the top 10 federal travel destinations -- Washington, New York, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and Boston -- will see lower hotel per diems for at least part of next year, according to fiscal 2010 per diem rates published Monday by GSA.
• Biden Photo for Federal Buildings Arrives: Take a look at the photo that will hang in federal buildings, next to photos of the big boss.
• Next Year's Census Count Promises to Rejigger Political Map: Early analysis indicates that Texas will likely be the biggest winner since the prior count a decade ago, picking up three or four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
| August 25, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: Agencies and Departments, Eye Opener
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