Monday, June 23, 2014

VA Gangrenous Green

Have you reached scandal overload yet?

Do you find yourself reading and hearing things that make you feel bad - not bad because what you hear is disturbing, disappointing, or bring you to anger - but makes you feel bad because you find yourself just shrugging and moving on?

Well, I had it this weekend, and I'm still not all that pleased with myself.

I quickly rose to an appropriate snit when SECNAV decided to play industrial planner with the Navy's money and time with his Great Green Foolishness, so seeing a military organization playing climate change and green industry games should at least get a rise out of me, one would think.

With the latest scandal at the VA that led to General Shinseki's rather inglorious departure still fresh in the air - this seems sure to be tailor made for outrage, methinks.
VA facilities have become littered with every scheme to banish carbon dioxide short of requiring visitors to hold their breath. Calverton National Cemetery spent $742,034 on solar panels. Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery spent $787,308. Not to be out-greened, the Riverside National Cemetery spent $1.3 million on its solar system.
At the Phoenix VA Health Care System, where 20 Americans died from incompetence and cover-up, the department spent $20 million putting solar panels on the hospital roofs. That would have been more than enough money to provide the veterans with the health care they deserved.
It didn't though. Not a first. It isn't just me.

The more I read, the more I realized that it isn't the 2014 parade of Executive Branch scandals that made me numb ... no ... this diversion of VA funds from veterans healthcare to pet projects whose only health benefit seems to be the inner-fuzzies bureaucrats feel spending other peoples money, is not new at all - it is just part of the all-pervading funk.

From 2010;
"Solar power is a natural fit for our home state. This installation offers a tremendous opportunity for Arizona, and acts as a model for the rest of America. It is becoming more and more evident that solar addresses some of the largest challenges we currently face, and SAVAHCS is proactively addressing these issues"
- Gabrielle Giffords, Former Arizona Congresswoman
Follow that link above as well as the final link in this post, and look at all the money they have spent installing solar panels at the very locations where the Death Watch Waiting Lists were. 

Behold the cold crassness of it all. The unmitigated audacity of gall.

We let them get away with it. We were/are numb to the opportunity cost of it all. The VA sure wasn't trying to hide it. No one ever asked the hard questions, so why should they?
The Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded nearly $78 million in contracts to build solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in support of ongoing energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced. "With these investments in clean energy and other renewable energy projects for our medical centers and clinics, we are marching forward with the President's initiative to 'green' the Federal government," VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said. "The benefits of using solar power are significant, from our reduced utility bills to the quality of the air we breathe. This initiative is good for Veterans and good for our environment," Shinseki said.
How many veterans have died while waiting for care since 2010? How many referrals to specialists would $78 million buy?
As many as 40 veterans had died while waiting for care and 1,715 veterans in the Phoenix VA Health Care System had waited more than 90 days for an appointment. A retired Navy serviceman died of bladder cancer after being put on a 7-month waiting list after blood was found in his urine. He finally received an appointment a week after his death.
...from 2009 to 2011, the Phoenix VA Health Care System put in solar panels. The solar panels at the Carl T. Hayden VA in Phoenix cost $20 million.
At some South Texas facilities vets had to wait 85 days for a primary care appointment and 55 days for a mental health appointment with “a worst-in-the-nation, 145-day average wait for new patients seeking specialist care.”

One of the vets waiting for a mental health appointment, who suffered from waiting list cheating, committed suicide.

Meanwhile the South Texas Veterans Health Care System installed a 1.7 MW solar PV system.
Hawaii has the longest waiting list for veterans with an average of 145 days for an appointment at the Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center.

Meanwhile it was spending between $1 and $2 million on a 119 KW Solar PV System.
There is more, read it all if you need to. No wait; read it all. I don't think anyone at the VA thinks this is an issue. For the love of Pete ... look at the pic at the top of the post. Packed waiting room of beaten down and exhausted people (probably being forced to watch AFN PSAs or MSNBC). Only one person being helped. Sad, and almost Soviet in its visuals, yet ... that is the pic used by the VA itself in a "good news story." You can't make this stuff up.

Are leaders incapable of self-reflection? Are the watchdogs incapable of critical thought? Are those of us who served just accepting of being a lesser priority in someone else's political ambitions and financial gain?

There is more than death here - there is pain. How many people suffered with exceptional pain unnecessarily while waiting? 

For the last month, I have been dealing with an exceptionally painful health issue that for the first few days was, well, hard to describe. For those who have been there, you know what I mean. It is the kind of pain that makes everything else but breathing of secondary importance.

When my thick skull and stubborn ego decided things were only getting worse, I immediately went to a highly recommended specialist.

The first thing the doctor asked me was, "You aren't Tricare Prime are you?" I replied, "No, standard." He exhaled and said, "Good. You have to ask them for permission for everything. Here's what we need to do ...." and I was off and running on a path that has made great progress.

I asked him what if I had to rely on the VA. He grimaced and said, "Well, you wouldn't be here and you would be in pain for a very long time."

I can't even imagine. That is me just thinking selfishly and personalizing this, but humor me for a bit. 

What I can imagine is what would have happened if I were in the VA system. Call it self-referential, but right after those who died on lists, what comes to mind when I think of being in the VA system is the thought of me where I was a few weeks ago, then driving long distance to sit in a chair for hours upon hours upon hours to see anyone who could help with the pain, and perhaps days until I could see a specialist - if I were lucky.

That didn't happen to me. I just drove three miles down a road to a specialists who I picked.

The more I think of it, the more insane is the $78 million taken away from health care just so someone could make a PPT slide so the boss could prove to the President that the VA is,
"...marching forward with the President's initiative to 'green' the Federal government,..."
Since when did an organization such as this get in the iffy energy advocacy racket?
Mission Statement
To fulfill President Lincoln's promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans. 
Core Values
VA’s five core values underscore the obligations inherent in VA’s mission: Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence. The core values define “who we are,” our culture, and how we care for Veterans and eligible beneficiaries. Our values are more than just words – they affect outcomes in our daily interactions with Veterans and eligible beneficiaries and with each other. Taking the first letter of each word—Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, Excellence—creates a powerful acronym, “I CARE,” that reminds each VA employee of the importance of their role in this Department. These core values come together as five promises we make as individuals and as an organization to those we serve.
Integrity: Act with high moral principle. Adhere to the highest professional standards. Maintain the trust and confidence of all with whom I engage.
Commitment: Work diligently to serve Veterans and other beneficiaries. Be driven by an earnest belief in VA’s mission. Fulfill my individual responsibilities and organizational responsibilities.
Advocacy: Be truly Veteran-centric by identifying, fully considering, and appropriately advancing the interests of Veterans and other beneficiaries.
Respect: Treat all those I serve and with whom I work with dignity and respect. Show respect to earn it.
Excellence: Strive for the highest quality and continuous improvement. Be thoughtful and decisive in leadership, accountable for my actions, willing to admit mistakes, and rigorous in correcting them.

I can't speak for others, but maybe it took awhile for it to bother me simply because I expect to be disappointed with the VA. I expect anything involving the Federal Govt to be unfocused and wasteful. Maybe given my experience with the VA, I just wasn't shocked enough to be shocked.

This should not stand, should it? Should I just shrug and move along when over $78 million is spent on vanity projects while those who served their nation die waiting to see a doctor, or cannot sleep for days on end from pain they cannot get help with?

Well - at least we have yoga.

If you have not seen enough, behold the lack of focus, and cry the beloved country.

UPDATE: CNN's Drew Griffin has a great report. His advice is spot on.

Additionally, I would add that action is required by Congress as well. Until they change the personnel rules are changes to allow management to hire and fire as is done in the private sector, the larger problems will not be fixed.

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