By Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall – Global Financial Affairs Editor
The VA non-provision of health care for America’s veterans is in full-blown scandal mode and, according to the Associated Press, on June 10th FBI Director James Comey announced an investigation was being spearheaded by the Phoenix FBI field office. A little over a month ago, CBS reported that over 100 veterans may have died because of scheduling delays generated by the bureaucrats who run our military hospitals. Perhaps the FBI will be able figure out how the management staff at the Phoenix hospital deserved the tens of millions of dollars given to it in bonuses — for their quality work, no doubt.
Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson reported 18 new deaths resulting from the delays in Phoenix – to be added to the 17 already identified.
Most readers of Veterans Today are familiar with the facts of this scandal and do not need me or anyone else to regurgitate them for you! We all know of the fraudulent record-keeping, the secret lists covering up extended waiting periods, a fatal wait for many, it seems. What is yet to hit the fan is some of the reasons for the delays – like physicians who schedule only two or three appointments per day and play golf the remainder of the afternoon.
Perhaps the most sickening part of this mess is the finding that in the midst of this chaos 78 percent of VA senior managers qualified for extra pay or other compensation during 2013. They got “outstanding” or “exceeds fully successful” ratings on the annual performance evaluations. What are they using for standards of excellence? A dog training manual? Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL), cited examples of bonuses given:
• Sharon Helman who headed the Phoenix VA Medical Center (where this story broke) received a bonus of $8,500.
• The Director of Dayton, Ohio’s VA Center received more than $10,000 despite being under investigation for vets who were exposed to hepatitis B and C at the facility.
• Pittsburgh’s director of health care got a top performance review and, because he was a regional director, received a $63,000 bonus (even though six patients died because of a Legionella outbreak in Pittsburgh’s VA health care system).
Why was this situation allowed to go on once identified last April? One big reason was the lack of media coverage… CBS and NBC totally ignored the scandal until Fox News coverage caused it to become known. ABC News devoted a total of 14 seconds to the story. What is their liability here? We need to define more specifically that “freedom of the press” means freedom to those who publish all of the news, not just news they choose or are directed to publish. If they do not publish all of the news, they should lose the protections the First Amendment offers.
There is a solution – and part of it (a minor part) is contained in legislation proposed in the Senate by its only declared socialist, Bernie Saunders (I-VT) and John McCain (R-AZ) which says if veterans must wait longer than 30 days for treatment or must travel further than 40 miles to get to a VA hospital, they should get vouchers and be able to walk into a local hospital. The legislation is only good for two years but does provide some long-term relief by making funds available for hospital construction.
How much good will dollars for construction do when from 2009 to 2011 the Phoenix VA Health Care System put in solar panels that cost $20 million? You see, Obama signed a Green Energy Executive Order – he has a phone and a pen, remember (that’s what he told us) – and rather than getting down in the trenches and visiting hospitals and talking with people in the waiting area about the quality of service being provided them, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki announced that “in order to continue providing Veterans with the best health care benefit services, VA must adapt to climate change.”
The $20 million that went to Green Energy in Phoenix could have saved at least 35 veteran lives that we know of – and possibly more.
The Phoenix solar panels was not an isolated incident.
• The Amarillo, Texas VA hospital has a long wait for mental health patients – the third longest in the country. It spent $10 million on solar panels.
• In Hawaii, you have to wait 145 days for an appointment – but the Spark M. Matsunaga VA system spent between $1 and $2 million on a 119 KW Solar PV System… Obama’s pen and phone, again.
• Kansas VA vets had to wait more than 90 days for an appointment (977 never had appointments scheduled). There were 104 vets on the waiting list at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita. It, too, had solar panels.
• The Malcom Randall VA Medical Center, Gainesville, FL, had 200 vets on its waiting list but spent somewhere between $5 and $10 million on a solar panel system.
• Albuquerque’s Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center spent $20.3 million on a solar system. When you Google the hospital, its ad says: “The physicians and staff at this VA hospital provide a good level of care considering the lack of Doctors.” At least they’re honest if lacking in foresight as to how to best utilize $20.3 million to provide medical service to veterans.
• At the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, GA, it takes about 57 days to see a primary care doctor – but vets can admire the Center’s $1.1 million solar system while they wait.
• The Bay Pines VA System in Florida (with several hospital treatment centers) kept 1,000 vets waiting for an appointment but had the time and money to install solar panels.
• Cheyenne’s VA Medical Center has two $1 million solar systems.
• The Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center, part of the Los Angeles VA Healthcare System, invested in part of a $50 million solar panel contract.
Back to the solution. Anyone who spends time in the private sector can think this problem through to a better solution than Sanders and McCain provided in their temporary fix legislation (which gives more construction money to the system – perhaps to buy more solar panels, but maybe not now that Solyndra has gone bankrupt).
What to do: The VA goes out into the communities in which veterans’ hospitals are located and gives private physicians the opportunity to sign up for spending one day a month at the hospital… or a half-day (with the other half-day on the hospital’s golf course). Why would a quality physician want to do such a thing? A) Patriotism. B) Playing golf in a foursome with the VA Hospital Director (military golf courses are usually high quality). C) Physicians will be able bill the government at their normal (verified by IRS records – unless the IRS computer system goes down, so to speak) per patient fee, so the physician won’t lose a thing… and it might make some of the VA hospital physicians who find it difficult to see more than two or three patients a day a bit nervous and more attentive to their duties and less attentive to their golf game.
Won’t that be expensive to taxpayers? No, not if it’s structured properly. Because it can be totally handled at each hospital, no expansion of federal employees will be required. The government’s computers just send the physician a specially devised 1099 form at the end of the year telling the physician how much he/she can deduct from taxes for that year. You see, rather than paying the physician’s fee, the government gives the physician a voucher allowing the total amount to be taken as a tax deduction. The more successful a physician, the more money he or she makes and the greater the need for good, solid tax deductions. Thus such a program would have strong appeal to highly successful physicians.
The local VA hospital where I live does this without the tax benefit of charging the government full per patient price and taking it as a tax deduction. I have never heard a negative word spoken about this VA hospital by anyone. My stepfather died there a little over two years ago. Enough cannot be said about the quality care he got in our local VA hospital!
The above points out perfectly why government has no business making investments in private sector markets. In short, it does not know what it’s doing and we are going to need laws that protect taxpayers from having their money used for political agendas – cronyism, as in the Obama Administration’s hypnotic attachment to taking the nation green. If it takes the nation down while going green, one could certainly make a case for either stupidity or violation of Oath of Office to protect and defend America.
Solyndra probably got more publicity than any of the other Obama administration investment failures. The government lost $528 million on a company that produced – oh, my, solar panels – at a time when VA Hospitals were buying solar panels like they were chocolate candy rather than expanding their capacity to schedule patients for treatment. Does the VA Hospital scandal go to the White House? Just say “Solyndra” and you’ll have your answer (or part of it).
It was not just Solyndra. Obama bailed out General Motors when the government purchased a 60.8% ownership share for $49.5 billion. That resulted in a $10 billion loss.
While the federal government – the public sector – was losing taxpayer money hand over fist, in the private sector Boeing added 10,000 jobs (and did it while Obama’s Labor Relations Board was working hard to prevent Boeing from opening a new plant in North Carolina – a plant that produced an additional 9,000 jobs).
Fisker Automotive Inc. will cost taxpayers $139 million because a loan was made by the White House to this struggling electric car maker. A $400 million loan guarantee was made to About Solar in 2010 and A123 Systems Inc. received a $249 million grant in 2010. Both failed.
Associated Press recently sent a team of six reporters who have been tracking the $300 billion in funds made available to provide “shovel ready” jobs to unemployed Americans. Their conclusion (I would point out that AP isn’t exactly a conservative media outlet): “The $300 billion sent to the states is primarily being used for health care, education, unemployment benefits, food stamps, and other social services.” Thus, as a different AP report said, “Stimulus Aid Favors Welfare, Not Work Programs.”
Do you see the tie here between VA Hospital scandals and loans made to Green companies that will never be repaid and stimulus funds being used for unintended purposes? Similar ties can also be made to IRS abuse of power and lost emails, Benghazi, unlawful immigration, and every other corrupt practice of this Administration.
It’s called “crony capitalism.” It’s called “political” or “state capitalism.” I prefer the name “debtism,” because that’s where these prostituted forms of capitalism have led us: So far into debt we will never see daylight… unless we become familiar with the concept called “odious debt” – or, “immoral debt.”
There is a solution to every problem. We just have to look in the right corner to find it.
Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall began her career in 1956 as a journalist with the Wyoming Eagle in Cheyenne. During her 20 years (plus) as a banker and bank consultant, she wrote extensively for The American Banker, Bank Marketing Magazine, Trust Marketing Magazine, was U.S. Consulting Editor for Private Banker International (London/Dublin), and other major banking industry publications. She has given speeches to bankers worldwide.
She has written seven non-fiction books about banking and taught private banking in Singapore; also at Colorado University for the American Bankers Association. She has authored seven banking books, one dog book, a biography, and two works of fiction (about banking, of course). She has served on numerous Boards in her community.
Barnewall is the former editor of The National Peace Officer Magazine and as a journalist has written guest editorials for the Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, and Newsweek, among others. On the Internet, she has written for News With Views, World Net Daily, Canada Free Press, Christian Business Daily, Business Reform, the Post & Email, and others.
She has been quoted in Time, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, and other national and international publications. She can be found in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who of American Women, Who’s Who in Finance and Business, and Who’s Who in the World.