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At least 40 U.S. veterans have died waiting for medical appointments at Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system undefined including many placed on a secret waiting list. The list was part of a complex cost-cutting scheme set up by Veterans Affairs managers in Phoenix aiming to hide the fact that between 1,400 and 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait up to 21 months to see a doctor, according to whistle-blowing retired top VA doctor and high-level sources.
Internal emails reveal managers at Arizona’s VA hospital knew about the practice and even condoned it. Retiring Dr. Sam Foote, who spent 24 years with the VA system, told CNN that the Phoenix VA worked off two patient appointment lists. The "official" list shows the VA was offering timely appointments within 14 to 30 days. Foote called this a “sham list” because there was another secret document where waits where much longer.
"The scheme was deliberately put in place to avoid the VA's own internal rules. They developed the secret waiting list,” he said. According to Foote, the elaborate plans involved shredding evidence to hide the long list, with VA officials instructing staff to not make veterans’ appointments in the computer system.
Instead, Foote explained, when a veteran sought an appointment, "They enter information into the computer and do a screen-capture, hard-copy printout. They then do not save what was put into the computer undefined so there's no record.” That hard copy is then placed into a secret electronic waiting list, Foote said, with the paper data being shredded. He also revealed that patients wouldn’t be taken off the secret list until their appointment time was within 14 days or less undefinedgiving the appearance that the VA was improving waiting times.
"I feel very sorry for the people who work at the Phoenix VA. They all wish they could leave 'cause they know what they're doing is wrong,” Foote said, noting that many employees are afraid to speak out about the process. Other high-level VA staff confirmed Foote's description to CNN. For Navy veteran Thomas Breen, 71, the wait on the secret list ended tragically.
He was rushed to Phoenix VA emergency room in September 2013 with blood in his urine and a history of cancer. The family obtained a VA chart stating his case was deemed urgent with “one week” to see a doctor, but was sent home.
His son Teddy Barnes-Breen and daughter-in-law Sally called daily to get Breen into a doctor, but were told they were should be patient. Breen died on Nov. 30 and his death certificate showed the cause was Stage 4 bladder cancer. Sally said the VA finally called on Dec. 6 to confirm Breen’s appointment.
"At the end is when he suffered. He screamed. He cried. And that's somethin' I'd never seen him do before, was cry. Never. Never. He cried in the kitchen. 'Don't let me die,'" Sally said. CNN obtained emails from July 2013 showing top management, including Phoenix VA Director Sharon Helman, was aware of wait times and the electronic off-the-books records. They also showed that some patients were waiting 6-20 weeks to get their first appointment with a primary care physician.
Foote sent letters to the VA Office of the Inspector General detailing the secret electronic waiting list and veteran deaths. Foote confirmed IG inspectors have interviewed him about the allegations. "It is disheartening to hear allegations about Veterans care being compromised,” the agency said in a statement to CNN. “We have conducted robust internal reviews since these allegations surfaced and welcome the results from the Office of Inspector General's review. We take these allegations seriously."
Foote says the entire secret list and the reason for its existence was planned and created by top management at the Phoenix VA to avoid detection of the long wait times by veterans. "This was a plan that involved the Pentad, which includes the director, the associate director, the assistant director, the chief of nursing, along with the medical chief of staff undefined in collaboration with the chief of H.A.S.," he said.
The U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee in Washington is investigating the VA as well as veteran healthcare delays countrywide.
Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, has demanded the VA preserve all records in anticipation of a congressional investigation. Congress has now ordered all records in Phoenix, secret or not, be preserved, including that of Thomas Breen.
One of the most modern Department of Veterans' Affairs Hospital Centers in the US is nicknamed the "Star Wars Center." Spread out over more than 170,000 square feet on two floors, the new Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital is a $56 million project four years in the making.
It was planned after a scandal involving conditions at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and designed to replace Haley’s interim polytrauma center, the busiest of the five in the nation. VA officials say it will capitalize on rapid technological advancements, centralize treatment for troops and veterans who have suffered multiple injuries and accommodate what officials expect will be increasing numbers of patients as people leave the service with lifelong damage.
Built to allow the space to be filled with natural light, its 56 rooms have lift devices, areas for visitors and are laid out in “neighborhoods” with names such as “Valor” and “Courage.” The walls are painted in muted tones undefined antique brick red and saffron and sage. The halls are wider than the current center, with a space in front of each room for patients to spend time in a more communal setting when up to it.
An area called Main Street has six towering freeze-dried palm trees, a coffee shop, rooms for occupational and physical therapy and a two-story therapeutic climbing wall. Just off Main Street is a virtual reality system helping patients adapt to a variety of environments.
In another building is an aquatic center with a 40,000-gallon therapy pool and a much smaller pool with a treadmill floor that goes up and down and variable-speed water flow. Outside in the courtyard, there is a basketball net on a half court, a putting green and varied surfaces to help those using wheelchairs, walkers or canes learn to navigate surfaces such as grass and dirt and brick and gravel. At 1 p.m. today, officials will show off the new center at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. It is expected to begin handling patients in about a month.
“I’m pretty excited.” said Stephen Scott, the hospital chief of physical medicine and the rehabilitation and polytrauma program. “This is a gift from America to those who serve our country. It gives them an environment of hope, compassion and healing that they deserve.”
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The war in Afghanistan is winding down, and U.S. forces are not engaging at the same pace in activities that saw more than 6,700 U.S. troops killed and 51,000 wounded over 13 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But the tidal wave of those who have suffered injuries seen and unseen has yet to crest. Last fiscal year saw a record number of active-duty patients admitted to Haley undefined 281 undefined with the trend through the first quarter of this fiscal year set to eclipse that, according to figures provided by the hospital. The number of patients admitted to the polytrauma center, active duty and veteran, peaked in the 2012 fiscal year at 132, tapering off to 118 the following year. Scott said he expects those numbers to go up as more men and women leave the service.
Overall since April 2007, more than 500,000 Afghanistan and Iraq veterans entering the VA health care system have been screened for traumatic brain injury, including more than 53,000 at Haley, according to the hospital. And up to half a million of the 2.5 million who have served since 9/11 may have post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the VA. Aside from being newer and more comfortable, the center will consolidate a wide array of services that now are spread out over a sprawling Haley campus, including the nation’s only in-patient pain clinic. “This allows us to use advanced technology in rehabilitation,” Scott said. “It puts teams and patients together with the therapies in the same environment.”
To help those with traumatic brain injury, PTSD, emotional stress, sleep disorders, physical pain and other problems as a result of the strains of combat, the center will move its Post-Deployment Rehabilitation and Evaluation Program into the new center, Scott said. “What we are finding is that most of the individuals are coming back not with just one problem,” said Scott, “but multiple issues.” There are a couple of reasons why the scheduled end of combat operations in Afghanistan at the end of the year won’t alleviate the pressure on the center, Scott said.
First of all, there are tens of thousands of troops deployed around the world conducting dangerous training. There are commandos active around the globe. And even at bases back home, the military life is hard on the body and mind. The injuries are not all combat-related, Scott said. “You see this pipeline of injuries from 13 years of war; statistically only 50 percent of those evacuated at the highest intensity were from combat. When the war goes down, as we have actually seen many times over the years, the noncombat injuries are still there.”
The center was supposed to open early last year, but construction was delayed. Once excavation began, crews had to pump tons of cement into the ground to stabilize the soil, said hospital spokeswoman Karen Collins. There were additional delays because connecting the new center’s heating and cooling system with the one now serving Haley turned out to be more complex than anticipated, Collins said.
The final price represented a $4 million increase over the original $52 million tab, Collins said. “Budgets change as technology improves and construction and building materials fluctuate,” she said. The concept for a new center picked up momentum when investigators began to find problems at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Scott said.
The scandal kicked off by a Washington Post series “raised awareness about the fact that we were treating these war heroes in interim facilities not designed for the care they needed to receive,” Scott said. “That allowed the VA to move forward building more state-of-the-art, more purposeful facilities.”
When it comes online, the new center will have 165 employees, with the same federally mandated nursing staff-patient ratio of 3- or 4-to-1, she said. That figure includes 76 new full-time equivalent positions, including nursing staff being moved over from the medical-surgical team, nutritionists, therapists and cleaning staff. The new center, which will require congressional approval to be named, is part of a four-phase hospital improvement program that included a new 1,500-car garage and a new bed tower that is awaiting congressional budget approval, Collins said. “We are extremely grateful to have this facility,” Scott said. “This is a moment in time that is just one of those good moments.”
“This budget will allow us to continue the progress we have made in helping Veterans secure their place in the middle class,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “It is a tangible demonstration of the President’s commitment to ensuring Veterans and their families have the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve.”
The $68.4 billion total in discretionary spending includes approximately $3.1 billion in medical care collections from health insurers and Veteran copayments.
“We remain committed to providing Veterans the opportunity to pursue their education, find meaningful employment and access high-quality health care,” Shinseki added. “From the men and women of ‘the greatest generation’ to the Veterans who have returned from our most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, no one deserves it more.”
VA operates one of the largest integrated health care systems in the country with nearly 9 million enrollees; the ninth largest life insurance program; monthly disability pay, pensions and survivors payments to more than 5.1 million beneficiaries of monthly pay, pensions and survivor benefits; education assistance or vocational rehabilitation benefits and services to 1.2 million students; mortgage guaranties to over 2 million homeowners; and the largest cemetery system in the nation.
Here are highlights from the President’s 2015 budget request for VA.
With a medical care budget of $59.1 billion, including collections, VA is positioned to provide care to 6.7 million patients in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. The patient total includes over 757,000 people whose military service began after Sept. 11, 2001.
Major spending categories within the health care budget are:
The President’s proposed budget would ensure that care and other benefits are available to Veterans when and where they need them. Among the programs that will expand access under the proposed budget are:
Eliminating Claims Backlog
The President’s proposed budget provides for full implementation of the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) robust Transformation Plan -- a series of people, process and technology initiatives -- in FY 2015. This plan will continue to systematically reduce the backlog and enable the Department to reach its 2015 goal - to eliminate the disability claims backlog and process all claims within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy.
Major transformation initiatives in the budget proposal invest $312 million to bring leading-edge technology to the claims backlog, including:
Eliminating Veterans Homelessness
A major strategic goal for the Department is to end homelessness among Veterans in 2015. The budget request targets $1.6 billion for programs to prevent or reduce homelessness, including:
Other Services for Veterans
Other features of the administration’s FY 2015 budget request for the department are:
For full story go to the VA website.
Today, the Department announced that on April 1, 2014, administrative walk-in services will no longer be available at TRICARE Service Centers (TSC) in the United States. Tricare Service Centers do not provide treatment to patients, but rather administrative services only. This change will not in any way affect TRICARE eligibility or the delivery of healthcare services to TRICARE beneficiaries. TRICARE service centers overseas are not affected. The majority of customer service visits to TSCs concern billing, enrollment, changing a Primary Care Manager (PCM), general information on benefits and plans, or referrals. All of the walk-in services currently provided at TSCs can be delivered by existing toll-free call centers or multiple Internet and mobile application sites. TSCs cost more than $50.0 million per year to operate and maintain. Over the next five years, the $250 million saved will allow TRICARE to invest in more important healthcare services for our military members, eligible veterans and their families.
To ensure TRICARE beneficiaries are aware of this change, the Defense Health Agency has distributed a variety of educational materials to Military Treatment Facilities, TSCs and DoD ID card centers, as well as through Explanation of Benefits mailings and newsletters to beneficiaries. Click on the embedded link below to read the full DoD article: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=121473
More information may be found online at: www.tricare.mil/tsc. As always, please send me any questions you have and I will work with our subject matter experts to provide answers. Thank you for all you continue to do to support our military members, veterans and their families.
WASHINGTON - The Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense (DoD) just released improvements to the functionality of eBenefits, a joint self-service web portal that provides registered users with secure online information and access to a variety of military and Veterans benefits resources.
“eBenefits is clearly becoming the platform of choice for Veterans seeking access to the numerous benefits they have earned,” said Undersecretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “The increasing capabilities of eBenefits give Veterans and Servicemembers greater flexibility in securing the information they are looking for.”
The latest release, eBenefits 4.3, allows for easy navigation of the online disability compensation claim submission process using interview-style questions and drop-down menus similar to tax-preparation software, instead of a traditional fill-in-the-blank form. The latest release also pre-populates the application with information from a Veteran’s record in VA’s secure database. Veterans can view processing times for each phase of their claim.
Other site improvements include a tool to help determine if a Veteran has eligibility for Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment benefits, a calculator for military reservists to determine retirement benefits, and a search function that identifies a claimant’s appointed Veterans service representative, with links to Google Maps indicating the location of their nearest representative’s office. Servicemembers and Veterans can also access records like Post-9/11 GI Bill enrollment status, VA payment history, and DoD TRICARE health insurance status.FOR ENTIRE ARTICLE CLICK HERE.
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