Donnellan weighs in on the new secretary of the Veterans Administration

To the Editor,

I had some hope for the new secretary of Veterans Affairs. I base that on the fact that he was a doctor, and had worked for the VA system. Now it has all too quickly become business as usual. After six months on the job the Secretary took a 10-day vacation to London, throwing in a meeting with British and Danish veteran officials so that we could pay for his trip. He also took his wife and we picked up her expenses somehow. Strangely enough, the trip coincided with the Wimbleton championship. [Washington Post 9/29/17]

Mind you, the VA hasn’t managed to kill as many veterans in one place as they did in Phoenix early in 2014 but things haven’t improved. The Secretary seems to be fiddling while VA burns. April Wood was medically discharged for an ankle injury in 2004. She continued to have pain and went to the VA hospital in Maine. After two botched surgeries, she chose to have the leg amputated. Thomas Franchini was her doctor. In 88 cases the VA concluded that Franchini made mistakes that harm veterans: “We found that he was a dangerous surgeon” said Chief of Surgery Robert Sampson, but he wasn’t fired or reported to the national database. He was allowed to resign and is now working as a podiatrist in New York City.

You know the case is the VA came to settlements with employees who had made serious mistakes This was to keep it under the radar so to speak, and in 2014 and 2015 VA had paid out over $6.7 million. In that same two years, 126 employees who were to be fired, were allowed to resign. In 82 cases the VA agreed to purge negative records from personnel files; 75 employees were given neutral references hiding misconduct; 70 employees agreed not to apply to VA hospitals either for a few years or for life; 38 cases included clauses barring disclosure of terms granted. This was before the current Secretary took office but six months into the job he’s on vacation — kind of like the captain of the Titanic saying, “Don’t worry folks! We are just stopping for ice!”

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs there are 21 million veterans. According to the United States Census Bureau there are 18 — even using VA numbers. Of the 21 million, less than half, or 9 million, are even registered with the VA and of that number, only 5 million actually use the VA system. Further, in the past ten years the number of veterans have dropped by 3 million or 14 percent. That trend is only going to accelerate. The largest portion of the veteran population is Vietnam veterans averaging 70 years of age, the last of the draft. Anyway, at the same time the veteran population dropped by 14 percent, VA budget increased by 225 percent.

The Secretary in June, (that must’ve been just before his London trip), went to Congress for an increase in funding because of over-runs on a program called Veterans Choice. This program was instituted in early 2014 after 40 veterans died in Phoenix waiting for care. Simply put, it allows a veteran who didn’t care to use the VA services, to seek healthcare on the outside. This is only under certain conditions.

Well, in a normal world if a CEO saw that, they would think, “What are they doing wrong?”

Not the VA — they simply went to Congress and got another $2.1 billion for the program. And the Secretary feels that they are now facing another short fall, but don’t worry — supposedly in November the VA will issue all veterans a photo ID card. Does this mean those veterans will be entitled to VA healthcare? Not necessarily, however they can use the card for discounts in stores, parks, restaurants, pubs, post exchanges etc. which means VA will give the vet a card, so that other folks can give the veteran a break. They have yet to decide whether or not they are going to charge for this card.

Most non-veterans think that every veteran receives healthcare from the Department of Veterans Affairs — not so. The other piece of this is that these cards will only be available online. That won’t help older veterans who do not have access to a computer. But this is the part that I love the best — they were asking veterans to upload a recent photograph to be used on the card. Tell me that doesn’t open the door to drug dealers, con men, illegal aliens, and terrorists who would love to have a federal photographed ID that leads people to believe that they are a veteran of the Armed Services. Happy Veterans Day!

Sincerely,

Jerry Donnellan, Director
Veterans Service Agency of Rockland