Message from the Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs
This address was sent courtesy of Vietnam Veterans of America
Not all Veterans are getting the timely access to the healthcare that they have earned. Systemic problems in scheduling processes have been exacerbated by leadership failures and ethical lapses. I will use all available authority to swiftly and decisively address issues of willful misconduct or mismanagement.
VA’s first priority is to get all Veterans off waiting lists and into clinics while we address the underlying issues that have been impeding Veterans’ access to healthcare. The President has made clear that this is his expectation.
Even as we implement these immediate actions, we will work with Veterans Service Organizations, members of Congress, academia, public and private organizations, and with all other agencies and institutions that can help us move forward.
We will also continue to depend on the faithful service of VA employees and leaders who place the interests of Veterans above their own, those who serve Veterans with dignity, compassion, and dedication, and who live by VA’s core values: Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence.
Finally, as we accelerate our access to care, we will not lose sight of the fact that the quality of VA healthcare remains strong. Ten years of external validations have consistently shown that, on average, Veterans who use VA healthcare rate our hospitals and clinics as high or higher in customer satisfaction than patients give most of the Nation’s private sector hospitals.
On behalf of all Veterans, I express my appreciation to Secretary Shinseki for his leadership of VA. For decades to come, Veterans will benefit from the transformation begun in the past five years.
Thank you for your support and dedication to Veterans and our mission to serve them.
Sloan D. Gibson
Senator Sanders Introduces VA Clean Up Legislation
The Inspector General’s interim report on Patient Wait Times, Scheduling Practices, and Alleged Patient Deaths at the Phoenix Health Care System and the results of VA’s face-to-face audit raise a number of issues that must be addressed without delay. Senator Sanders’ legislation would increase Department accountability and immediately improve access to health care. Below is a summary of some of the major initiatives of this legislation.
Removal of Incompetent Senior Officials
- Authority for Immediate Removal:This legislation would provide the VA Secretary authority to immediately remove incompetent senior executives based on poor job performance while maintaining due process for those employees. At most, the process should take no more than 30 days from firing to conclusion of the appeal period.
- Authority for the Acting Secretary to Remove Incompetent Employees:This bill would also provide authority for VA’s Acting Secretary to remove senior executives notwithstanding the 120-day moratorium in current law. If the Miller or Rubio bills pass “as is” the Acting Secretary would have no ability to fire people immediately – rendering the provision useless for four months.
Shortening Wait Times for Veterans
- Immediate Action to Reduce Wait Times: This legislation would standardize VA’s process for sending care into the community by requiring VA to take into account wait times for care at VA, the health of the veteran, and the distance the veteran would be required to travel, as well as the veterans preference, when authorizing care for the veteran when VA is unable to provide such care within its stated goal (currently 14 days).
- Bolstering VA’s Ability to Bring in Doctors: This bill would give VA the ability to rapidly hire new doctors, nurses and other health care providers in areas where there are identified shortages. It would allow National Health Service Corps participants to receive scholarships and loan repayment for employment at VA facilities, making it easier for VA to attract needed personnel. Finally, it would extend access to VA’s health care scholarship program for those individuals pursuing a medical degree with the intent of specializing in primary care.
Addressing VA’s Long-Term Needs
- Authorization of Major Medical Facility Leases: This legislation would authorize VA to enter into 27 major medical facility leases in 18 states and Puerto Rico. In many instances, these leases would improve access to care closer to home, and would increase the availability of specialty care services in these locations. In addition, these would allow VA to decompress over-utilized VA facilities. Due to unprecedented scoring issues that arose during fiscal year 2013, Congress has not yet authorized the leases VA requested during the fiscal year 2013 and 2014 budget cycles.
- Access to VA Health Care:This bill would require the President to create a Commission to look at VA health care access issues and recommend actions to bolster capacity. A report to the President would be required within 90 days of the Commission’s first meeting.
- Capital Planning for VA Medical Facilities: This bill would require the establishment of a Commission on Capital Planning for VA medical facilities to improve VA’s capital asset processes, from facility planning and individual project management to managing the multi-billion dollar backlog of facility construction and maintenance projects in order to ensure veterans can receive treatment in safe facilities.
SDVOSB Verification Transfer Debate: Opposing Views
(these opinions were originally carried in VetLikeMe, edition 4.6)
With regard to the transfer of the verification and appeals process from the VA to the SBA included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the bulk and intent of NDAA is essentially HR 2882, introduced by Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO) on July 30, 2013. Below are counter views by two staunch SDVOSB advocates.
In Support of Transfer
By Marc Goldschmitt
The bill fixes several key problems and eliminates double standards in statute and regulation:
1. It aligns SBA and VA statutory definitions of a veteran
2. It updates the Small Business Regs to provide for continuation of the business in the event of the death of the SDV from service connected disabilities or if the vet is 100% disabled
3. It provides for an appeals process with experienced administrative law judges and decades of case law.
4. Assures that an SDVOSB or VOSB at VA is an SDVOSB or VOSB at SBA and vice versa.
I think that we could all agree that these are significant and long overdue changes.
The other part of the bill, which is the only place I’ve heard any push back, has to do with where the verification process is managed and executed. This is the implementation and interpretation aspects of verification. In the past these were severely broken and caused irreparable harm to a number of businesses.
From a veteran perspective, the implementation today is significantly better:
1. Time frames from submission to decision are significantly reduced
2. Much more information is publicly available about the documentation that CVE requests and what they may be looking for
3. Verification Assistance Partners and Counselors have been trained and are able to assist applicants in preparing and submitting documentation as well as interpreting requests for additional information.
4. CVE has implemented a pre-determination step.
The remaining issue of interpretation is one that can be highly emotional. By this I mean what CVE refers to as “Business Models.” These are the areas where there seems to be strong consensus that change is required, but less agreement on what things need to be changed and how. It also impacts the type and volume of documentation that a veteran must submit. To me, the debate should focus on how important are these changes to the veteran community and how soon must be implemented. Admittedly, these “business model issues” do not immediately affect most of the smaller businesses and startups. But, they do impact those businesses that are growth oriented and seeking an infusion of capital and expertise to support and sustain that growth. So, the first question is “How important is change to building and sustaining a VOSB and SDVOSB industrial base? “
The leaders, workers and process for doing ownership and control (a subset of HUBZone, 8a and status protests) are in place and would most likely continue if SBA moved to Commerce. Since the infrastructure, policies and procedures are in-place at SBA to support document collection and review, the second question would be “How disruptive in the short term and long term would a move to SBA be?”
You make the point that “the Executive tells VA leadership to do it this way and or that way or else…it should get better or heads should roll at VA.” You also state that “VA arrogance and refusal to comply with Congressional and GAO recommendations/direction. This is the crux of the situation and this is what requires attention.” So, the third question is “How likely is it that VA will implement necessary changes?”
Should the verification program move to SBA, an overriding historical concern, and a critical fourth question is “Where will the SDVOSB program fall in SBA’s priorities?”
Rather than bash HR 2882, which fixes problems that have plagued the verification program from its inception, let’s accept the critical parts that we agree need to be done and focus on the impact of the remaining implementation and interpretation challenges in the con-text of how we can recommend the path that best supports the community.
Verification at VA is fine. Certification and status determination should remain at SBA. That means that ownership and control should be done by SBA. VA should also be prohibited from addressing size and affiliation issues.
By Wayne Gatewood
Myself and a number of other SDVOSBs are against this Bill. We are NOT just another small business category…we are Veterans.
SBA does not have any leadership at present with Karen Mills on the way out and Marie Johns already gone, and there are considerations of having its mission (SBA) fall under Commerce Department…what chaos! There is also the issue of disability sensitivities regarding our individual cases that should not be shared with SBA in anyway. Finally, SBA has had its problems as well, and we will be starting from scratch!
Let us remember something very pertinent to this matter …..SDVOSB/VOSB verification was not and is not a universal small business requirement…it pertains ONLY for SDVOSB and VOSB set-asides at VA under the failing Vets First Program and PL 108-183. No doubt we have been hurt by the CVE verification failures (me personally for over a year), but I am hanging my hat on CVE and VA. If the Executive Branch gets involved and sup-ports the Congress and its take on CVE, and IF the Executive Branch tells VA leadership to do it this way and or that way or else…it should get better or heads should roll at VA.
All too often the Congress has told VA it must do this and it must do that…VA’s leadership has been arrogant and combative and it is their refusals to comply that must be addressed. I am amazed at this Government; we have agencies that refuse to follow the Laws so we let them get away with it….no way to run the Government. Look at the 13 or so Aldevra Protests relative to Vets First at VA that were upheld by GAO; after all of these successful protests by SDVOSB Aldevra, VA still refused to comply and has stood solidly on their interpretation of PL 108-183 in the face of Congressional and GAO recommendations and concerns to interpret them otherwise. The VA Verification Program is strictly a VA requirement…get it fixed and make those responsible for the failures to be held accountable…that simple. Fact is, some progress is being made…we just need to get them where they need to be.
I am concerned that if we get this thing over to SBA, it will not be long until the other (non Vet small business groups) start demanding that there be verification for SDVOSBs for all agencies; there are those that are presently complaining that we self certify and they cannot. Fact is, many SDVOSBs do not want to be verified by VA because they are not looking for work at VA and they don’t want the hassle. If we would have to go to universal SDVOSB verification…think of the impact on non-verified SDVOSBs, and the expense to the Government. Certainly this part of my argument is hypothetical but I believe it will happen….just because we have taken our attention off the real issue…VA arrogance and refusal to comply with Congressional and GAO recommendations/direction. This is the crux of the situation and this is what requires attention. With more than 24 years in business and a verified SDVOSB, I was never consulted by anyone and asked my opinion regarding HR 2882, and neither were any of the SDVOSBs that I have spoken to. I am wondering how many SDVOSBs spoke with Congressional Staffers and such so their views could be known be-fore this Bill was drafted?
No doubt emotions regarding CVE at VA are raw but we need to think this through very carefully.
Under PL 106-50 a group of Vets were to form a Council at SBA and have all kinds of powers, power to call in agency heads, power to alert the White House to failures by those agencies not making their 3%, etc. etc., etc. Fact is, this Council (if that is what it is referred to) has NEVER been able to exercise the flexibility and the authority vested in it under the Law. The SBA never allowed the Council to fully function and thus we were not able to inform the White House of Agency failures and such. As I have said, we are Veterans and we need to clean up the lingering issues at VA CVE and leave the Program there where it belongs since it is in fact a VA matter for set-asides at VA only. Going to SBA I fear, will result over time, in universal verification for SDVOSBs under amended legislation. Fact is, many agencies outside of VA, if not all, want to see that a Vet is verified and are often hesitant to deal with those that are not VA verified…when in fact self verification is the Law for them.
AUTHOR’S UPDATE/POSTSCRIPT: I am all for the Bill (NDAA) EXCEPT the move to SBA….the rest of the Bill is fine with me. I say Verification for Vets stays at VA and if it is not working (verification is strictly a VA requirement under PL 109-461) replace the VA leadership as necessary…
[Stone, edition 4.6, August 2013]
SDVOSB Verification — VA to SBA?
Special to VetLikeMe from SDVOSBLAW (VetLikeMe Sponsor)
Last Fall, we described a Bill introduced by U.S. Representative Mike Coffman, (Chairman, Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and
Investigations) see VetLikeMe issue 4.6 that would strip VA of authority to verify Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (“SDVOSB”) status. The House of Representatives has now passed H.R. 4435, the 2015 National Defense Authorization Bill, which includes the substance of Rep. Coffman’s Bill.
Rep. Coffman’s proposed legislation responded to dissatisfaction with administration of the SDVOSB program by the VA Center for Verification and Evaluation (“CVE”). According to Coffman, “Many of the certification, appellate, and excessive cost problems at the VA have been well-documented by veterans, and even by the Government Accountability Office. It’s past time to create a clear and transparent set of rules and processes for the government to follow.” According to Bill sponsors, CVE’s effort duplicates SBA programs.
Consolidation of authority in the SBA will streamline the process because SBA administers similar programs and because small businesses could submit documentation to only one agency.
Rep. Coffman’s original draft Bill would give SBA control over the Vets First program, including verification and appeals. The House of Representatives has included the substantive provisions of that Bill in the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act, H.R. 4435, (“FY15 NDAA) passed by the House last Tuesday, May 22, 2014.
If adopted by the Senate, FY15 NDAA will give SBA authority to make rules, to maintain and operate the VIP database, to handle SDVOSB verification, and to decide appeals. In short, it would effectively abolish the role of CVE in the SDVOSB verification program. SDVOSBLAW.com will continue to monitor this important legislation and keep you updated.
[posted by Stone 5/30/14]
Hardy Stone is the editor/publisher of VetLikeMe, the nation’s only publication devoted to service disabled veteran owned business.