VA/Veterans/Medical 2015
by – Sheri de Grom

Our Veterans Suffered Unbelievable Pain and Died Unnecessary Deaths

Our Veterans Suffered Unbelievable Pain and Died Unnecessary Deaths

The most recent Inspector General (IG) report reveals egregious problems with enrollment data within The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The report identified so many complications it was impossible to determine how many veterans were actively seeking health care from the VA.

Data limitations make it impossible to decide how many now-deceased veterans have asked for health care and never received so much as a reply.

More than 300,000 American military veterans likely died while waiting for health care—and nearly twice that many are still waiting—according to a new VA Inspector General report.

The VA has acknowledged that its enrollment process is confusing and that data integrity and quality are in need of significant improvement.

The actions of a few have wipped out the heroic measures carried on by thousands who care for our veterans.

The actions of a few have wipped out the heroic measures carried on by thousands who care for our veterans.

The changes that have come about are because a whistle-blower reported that more than 200,000 veterans with pending applications for VA health care were likely deceased. The IG report substantiated that claim and others, but said there was no way to tell for sure when or why the veterans died.

Deficiencies in the VA’s information security—including a lack of audit trails and system backups—limited investigators’ abilities to authenticate some issues fully and rule out data manipulation.

As of June 30, 2015, the VA has contacted 302,045 veterans by mail, asking them to send required documents to establish eligibility. To date, the VA has received 36,749 responses and enrolled 34,517 veterans.

The above ratio of numbers represents a wasted expenditure. Would the same 36,749 have answered if flyers had been posted by volunteers at shelters, local markets, and places where veterans gather?

The homeless population isn’t going to answer mail from the VA. Many of them have

We thank our Veterans by allowing them to live under bridges and on our streets.

We thank our Veterans by allowing them to live under bridges and on our streets.

serious mental health problems and others have given up and wonder how their lives could have gone so terribly wrong. We have provisions for the homeless population to receive mail at United States Post Offices but I wonder how many homeless vets are aware of this fact.

Twenty-two veterans still commit suicide every 24 hours. Of those 22 veterans, only 17 had enrolled for services at the VA and the other 5 are unaccounted for. My suspicion is that the number of unreported suicides is much higher due to states not reporting suicides to the federal government. Nor do the states report if the deceased individual had veteran status. We simply don’t do a good job of identifying our veterans who need help. Some don’t want it and others don’t know how to use it.

I’ve maintained my Federal Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance for 30 years so that Tom and I would never be at the mercy of the VA and Ticare for Life. I’d seen so much that was wrong and had experienced too many bad customer service encounters in my early days of working for the government. I was determined; Tom would never become a victim of the VA system. I wanted us to always have a choice of the best medical care available.

We gave them so many reasons not to trust.

We gave them so many reasons not to trust.

I believe the VA’s low response to the letters they mailed signifies a continued distrust of the VA by Vietnam era Veterans. Additionally, thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans have had a disturbing reentry into civilian life and enrollment for health care benefits is difficult at best.

The number of veterans who received the letters and have other health insurance is unknown. Like Tom, they would have private health insurance and if they had retired from the military they would be eligible for Tricare payment for any deductible when using their private health insurance.

Federal law mandates everyone eligible for Tricare, Veterans included, must enroll in Medicare Part B. The Veteran would not need to contact the VA for health care services.

There are advantages of being enrolled in the VA and I urge any qualifying veteran to do so. They are building programs for treating the elderly with dignity. The VA has realized home care is less expensive and more beneficial to veterans and family members than nursing home care. The veteran stays in his/her own home and funds are made available for care in the home setting. Are the funds adequate; that remains to be seen.

Gaining access to these funds is not easy. It requires a united front from all caregivers to receive equal distribution of aid and assistance. I will be discussing this in a future blog.

Who will Congress give priority to; the Veteran or the illegal immigrant? We know where the loyalties of the Administration stands.

Who will Congress give priority to; the Veteran or the illegal immigrant? We know where the loyalties of the Administration stands.

If the VA is to survive, changes must be made. Congress promised to put into place regulations to remove those taking advantage of the VA program, e.g., administrators not doing their jobs and many others. The VA will not improve for our veterans until we can give them what they deserve for giving us the best years of their lives.

About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
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  1. Gallivanta says:

    I am left speechless by your post. 😦

    • Yes, it’s a bad situation. I don’t think privatizing is the answer either. The VA is too big for it to be contracted out. One of the main problems with our country is that whenever something becomes a problem, it’s routinely been solved by contracting it out. The contractors’ don’t care about anything but money and would just as soon see the Veterans die as to treat them.
      I wish I could remember the names of the 3 or 4 major cities that have now overcome the homeless veteran population in their cities. Not-for-profit organizations have taken on the mission of helping homeless veterans and now their cities have both needed programs for veterans and places for them to live. It really is wonderful to see on the news.

  2. Lignum Draco says:

    It is shameful, that people who put their lives on the line in the name of duty, get “rewarded” like this.There’s so much wrong in this world.

  3. Pingback: VETERAN’S DAY 2015 | Pacific Paratrooper

  4. A good friend with Parkinson’s has been getting treatment from the VA, and seems happy with the coverage. Is he an anomaly?

    • We find gems ever once in a while among the terrible statistics. Unfortunately, the gems take the heat for everyone else. The only provider Tom has with the VA is his psychiatrist and his doc is the best psychiatrist Tom’s ever had. This doc is so good, he’s the reason we elected to stay in Arkansas instead of returning to the west coast. It seems impossible that we’ve been here 10 years. All I have to do is call the cell of Tom’s doctor and I have an answer immediaely or he’s back to me within 24 hours. We also e-mail to stay on top of information if Tom isn’t having regular appointments.
      I have such high regard for Tom’s doctor, I placed him at the head of team for Tom’s care. He approves all medications prescribed even though they don’t come from the VA. He also has final say on all courses of treatment.
      Has your friend tapped into ‘aid and attendance’ with the VA or is she interested. There’s much I don’t know but am beginning to learn more everyday. The reason I asked is that if the veteran passes away first, the surviving spouse continues to receive the benefits for as long as she lives. The biggest benefit for me would being able to stay in my home even if I wasn’t able to care for myself. Even if your friend has children, the ‘aid and attendance’ provides a cafateria approach to services. The program is pretty impressive.

  5. The problem is so huge and the abuses so intractable that one could despair that the situation could ever be right. Your advocacy, though, shines a glaring searchlight on the issue.

    • John – Yes, the problem rolls down hill and we don’t want it to collect more sticks and stones. Our Veterans [such as yourself and so many others] cannot take on what the VA and congress wants to propose for the future. The push must continue to let congress, the Presidential office and all other elected officials know – the citizens of this country are sick and tired of war – and our President seems to think he’s ‘Chief of Staff’ of the Armed Forces and can make decisions on how many boots are going on the ground. Decisions coming from that so called ‘Oval Office’ have put our country in the worst financial crisis, we’re been in a war we should have never entered in the first place, we’ve lost so many good men and women to the long years of war and think of how many children and elderly we could have fed, kept warm and housed for what we’ve spent in middle eastern countries that don’t want us. Those countries have been fighting each other since Biblical times. What makes us think we can fix their problems. Thanks, as always, for reading with me and leaving a comment. Sheri
      Thank you for leaving the link to the Caregiver items at Fine Art America on the right hand side of my blog. Each item is truly impressive.

  6. Outstanding…thanks Sheri…this is such a critical issue to all those that have proudly served our country! Thanks for all that you do to spread the word!!

    • Kirt – Legislation is in committee that needs serious work [in my opinion] and I’ll be tackling it soon. I don’t want to see it leave committee in the shape it’s in now or it will serve only a few. The VA has some programs they are trying to put together and then congress knocks them flat. We must keep up the fight. Obviously, no one in DC is interested in ending the war anytime soon. Thank you so much for reading with me and leaving a comment. Sheri

  7. If “I” can understand the horrific problem here, why can’t those who run our country and make these decisions understand it????

    • Those who run our country have never given anything up for our country. When the President and over 70% of all elected officials have never served in the Armed Forces, why should they care about what happens to Veterans? When our President and all those elected officials were at Ivy League Universities and then on to law school or medical school or advanced degrees in philosophy or political science or whatever . . . they weren’t concerned about what was happenening in the real world. Their families weren’t connected to the military and neither were they.
      Then, you have those elected officials that have served in the armed forces but it’s been so many years ago and they had special privledges when they served so they never had a need for the VA. We need leadership that has a clue of what it takes to make the world go around.

      • That, is it in a nutshell Sheri. I wish your comment alone would go viral.

        • Colleen – Unfotunately our elected officials or their children will never serve. The tradition, if we want to call it that, has become set in stone. I haven’t checked but I don’t think we have a single candidate coming up in the Presidential election that’s served their country. I don’t consider flying around the world or the United States in private planes with multiple assistants as being in service to the country. [That’s not a shot at our past Secretary of State, it has to do with any official]. My definition of service to our country is ‘down in the trenches.’ My lowest paid clerk made more of a difference in the quality of life for every citizen than an elected official we’ve seen in a very long time.

          • I am pretty sure that most persons in a service field have made more of a difference. How sad of a statement is this? That those elected to serve, are truly elected to a life of privilege .

  8. willowdot21 says:

    Why do those who give the most receive the least!

  9. inesephoto says:

    What a shame! They risked their lives and sacrificed their health for all of us, whatever country we live in. Most of people are not aware how important it is to control certain areas of the world, and what happens when this control ceases. The Government knows it all, and they must appreciate the veterans, and do everything to restore their health and social status.

  10. ksbeth says:

    it strikes me as so sad that more vets die as a result of an uncaring system that fails them upon their return, than in any sort of military enterprise.

  11. Did they forget Sheri, the sacrifice the Vets made, do they care that they risked their lives so they could walk free today, perhaps another War would bring them to their senses, what would their response be when seeing their Loved ones march off to an unknown destiny, yes it’s not just the Vets but those left behind to wait that suffered and still suffer today as they too wait for help that never comes.

    God Bless you for your faithfulness Sheri to speak out against this injustice, hopefully many more in America will join you until the wrong has been righted.

    Christian Love Always – Anne.

    • Anne – The VA has always been one of those formadible government institutions that no one wanted to take on because of its pure size and complexity. So much is wrong, it’s difficult to determine where to start. Heaven help us if we enter another war. We can’t seem to get out of the wars we are already in. They have a never-ending stop point and men and women are giving life and limb to fight an illussive battle.
      It’s going to be up to men and women who honestly care about veterans who will bring about change. We’ve seen time and time again that Congress and the President prefer to look the other way. Sheri

  12. lbeth1950 says:

    Shameful that veterans should suffer this way.

  13. In my view, Congress also needs to significantly increase VA funding. With the US currently at war with 11 different countries (or is it 12, I can’t keep track?), funding for injured military personnel needs to significantly increase. If anything, it has decreased slightly when you account for inflation.

    • Dr. Braumhall – I totally agree with you. You are correct in that we are at war with far too many countries to even know exactly where the borders of one country ends and another begins. Congress continues to talk about right-sizing the military but I don’t think our congressional members have any thought of picking up arms and filling in for the places where we don’t have trained soldiers. Then we have the issue of the President vetoing the Defense Authorization Bill. He has no idea of what it takes to run a military operation.
      We know the VA is operating with a $3billion deficit. Exactly one year after the crisis of the big cover-up at the VA, veteran waiting list of one month or more is 50% or more higher than it was at the heighth of last year’s problems. The cost-cutting measures they are considering is of the night-mare quality. Our country has a real problem when it comes to upholding the promises it makes to those entering and serving the country.
      As always, thank you for reading with me and commenting. Sheri

  14. Paulette – Tom’s #1 doctor is his psyciatrist at our Little Rock VA. He’s the only doctor Tom has at the VA but this one doctor is the most valuable doctor we’ve ever had. He is the director of every decision I make regarding Tom’s care. If only the VA had more practioners with the care and concern this one physician provides on a daily basis. We’d never planned to live in AR but this physician is the reason we do and now that we’re here, everything else has fallen into place. God answered my prayers when Dr. Kuo came into our lives 10 years ago. You are so right, prayer and God’s will is what our veteran’s have to rely on. Our President and Congress have proven time and time again that they don’t care. Thank you for reading with me and leaving a comment. Sheri

    • You are so lucky you are blessed with this doctor but the numbers of vets that never have this kind of compassionate care seem to far outweigh these types of stories. Taking care of our vets should be one of our highest priorities yet it is one of our worst shames. Again, thank goodness you have a good doctor.

      • Paulette – Yes, we are so lucky. God was taking care of us in the most important way when we met Dr. Kuo. We lived in the Ozarks of Arkansas at the time and our first introduction to Dr. Kuo was by tela-medicine. At first, I was against tela-medicine but what if I had turned down that interaction. Here we are 10 years later and that was the only tela-medicine appointment Tom has had.
        I was asked to speak on behalf of veteran caregivers at the 15th Annual Mental Health Summit for Veterans. I learned much that day but I’d been asked to tell how it was for the caregivers of the veterans. One of my primary points was the inability to reach a physician directly without numerous layers of red tape. I used our relationship with Dr. Kuo as the perfect example on how the system must work.
        We all know that when our physician’s respond to our grave concerns, we feel human and acknowledged. It was agreeded upon at the summit to raise the bar for returning telephone calls to both veterans and the spouses of veterans. Let’s hope this is implemented immediately.
        That will be one of the goals to revisit at next year’s summit. How quickly are telephone calls returned and what was the result. Yes, it involves better record keeping but I also believe it will provide a better picture of what the VA will do and what it still isn’t doing.

  15. I read your post twice and what really stood out for me was: “More than 300,000 American military veterans likely died while waiting for health care—and nearly twice that many are still waiting”. So appalling that I can’t believe it. AND “Twenty-two veterans still commit suicide every 24 hours” – I just want to cry over that sentence.
    The fact that some of these facts are being taken into account by the VA is a good sign but at what glacial pace?

    • Patti – The only reason it was ever made public about the number of veterans who died waiting for care is that there was a whistle blower. Otherwise, the public at large may never have known what was NOT happening at the VA. I became furious beyond belief when the Secretary of the VA [Presidental Apppointee I’ll add] made the public comment that the VA wouldn’t have so many veterans needing care and care that was so expensive if it weren’t for the Vietnam Era Veterans. Talk about a slap in the face. This very group of Veterans have been turning 65 and yes, more health care comes with age but how dare they be singled out as not deserving of the VA.
      Things don’t happen fast at the VA. I worked the final year of my career within the VA system and I’ve never worked within a more corrupt and evil place. When that year was over, it haunted me like no other one year period of my career.
      If there’s one take-away from this blog I’d like everyone to have, I’d like for it to be advocacy on behalf of Veterans and their families. Most of them have no other resources for health care and they need our help.

  16. What a surprise nothing happened. I don’t know if it’s politics or employee unions or simple mismanagement. I do know it’s solvable if the power to do so is placed in the hands of a leader willing to lead. My kids are 35 years away from retirement, but maybe days away from a VA hospital. Who knows with active military. It worries me.

    • Jacqui – You have every right to be worried for your children. Who knows what we’ll have on behalf of veterans by that time. As Tom and I discuss from time to time, when he entered the military, one of the things that drew his attention and careful consideration was the promise of free health care for him and his family FOR LIFE. We know how well that worked out, don’t we. The VA has implemented what they call ‘The Choice’ program and I’ll blog about it at some point in the future, but for the time being, let me say the program was contracted out [as so much of our government is these days] and the program is only months old and already filled with more problems than solutions. [That’s what we get when we contract out government business].
      When you mention your children may be days away from a VA hospital, I pray they are not injured in the line of duty. I worked inside Walter Reed as my base of operation for 5 years and it’s a tough place to be [even with the new hospital]. Politics govern everything. However, I don’t want that possibility to be a frighting thought for you. If one or both of your children are headed for that reality, feel free to contact me and maybe I can walk you through part of the process that’ll make it a little easier for you and them. Don’t hesitate to e-mail me at Sheri P.S. One more thought – when any service member runs through their out-briefing and they fill out their paperwork for discharge, impress upon your children to be 100% truthful about every aspect of their health. If they have headaches -list it and how severe the are, have they lost hearing, do they now have back problems, sinus problems they didn’t have before, are they now experiencing depression, etc. Never go light on how they are dealing with the mental aspects. Had Tom listed even 1 of his suicide attempts, although he was a model soldier, we would have come away with 100% disability. This would mean his ex-wife would not get 50% of his military retirement [and she’s the one that did the crime] and with 100% disability that’s a guaranteed income for life. I’m just now learning so much of this. Be truthful on the questionnaire but also be truthful to yourself. Sheri

  17. Marie Abanga says:

    SHAMEFUL – At jeast in Africa we don’t even pretend to have a VA – People making money on the backs of those who braved the bullets and got the PTSD and all just so you don’t ‘hide in your bunkers all night long’. This sucks and I am sorry for my veteran friends out there and of course their families who bear all this

    • Marie – Thank you so much for stopping in to read with me and reply. What does your country do to help their veterans after they have been injured in war and return home. Is their a way for them to receive care without having to pay for it. I’m always looking for new ideas and simplified approaches for care for our veterans.
      How are you my friend? Inquiring friends want to know. With love, Sheri

      • Marie Abanga says:

        Sheri, there’s nothing being done in my country period. It’s equally shameful but I can only be honest. They get some lame pension and have some NGOs you can join and they advocate for you.I am fine and writing another memoir while establishing my law office. I hope Tom is hanging in there and so are you. All the best, Marie

        • Marie – Honesty is what OUR lives are about. We mustn’t let lies take hold ever again. At least with honesty, no matter how painful, we know what we are dealing with. Good for you, I’m so proud of your acomplishments in setting up your law practice and the dedication to spreading the word so others have the opportunnity to understand how you achieved your goals and thus became a successful woman in spite of the cards dealt you. I wish you the absolute best life has to offer. Sheri.

  18. GP Cox says:

    I agree that the VA is badly broken as has been, regardless of what our pres. has said he did to fix it when he was a senator. Personally, I think those letters did have to go out, despite the cost, but they should also have been posted in community centers, and churches, etc.
    As we’ve all experienced in any hospital, the amount of service and type of service you received all balances on the amount you or your insurance company can pay – so we can picture what a VA hospital is like.
    A very good information site for veterans that perhaps you will like is written by Col. Mike Grice (Ret.), he doesn’t post very often anymore, but there are tons of articles and links there for veterans.

    We’ll talk soon.

    • G.P. – I think I’ve visited the blog of COL Mike Grice (Ret) before but I’m going back again. Thank you for the reminder. I’m putting together a list of resources for Veterans and their families to use for wide disemination. Hopefully we’ll be able to have a great list of ideas by the time our list is published. I know it will be updated on a regular basis but we have to have a start.
      A Girl Scout Troop [across the state] came through on an idea and it’s positively wonderful. They are packaging in celephone wrappers all new products [full size I might add] a toothbrush, full size toothpaste, shower gel and nice sponge to accompany it, a full size face cloth, hand towel, and bathtowel, 2 packets of hand cleaners, 2 packets of general clean-up wipes, small role of toilet paper and packet of wipes when needed they can carry wth them. I’m so impressed with what the Scouts are doing. Thus far, around 25,000+ packs have been given out to troops from both the clinical level and in-take clinics. They are also distributed to homeless shelters and hot meal lines.
      The enthusiasm of the girls is contagious and would you believe, all products have been donated. Two girls are learning grant writing from me [they were here last night and oh what eager students – we worked 4 hours straight and young people live such interesting lives] and have taken on asking for the nylon style grooming bags for the vets to carry their goodies in and aso 500 backpacks.
      This is what I mean when something takes off and I see the end result and feel so really blessed.
      This is a project already on the prented program to be presented at the Girl Sout National Conference this year.

      • GP Cox says:

        This program sounds outstanding, Sheri!! They’re over-seas and we tend to disregard them – despite the president creating new and not- so- interesting- reasons for them to stay there. It is our obligation to care for them – not those that come here to the US illegally and then demand free food, medical care and housing!!
        I am thrilled to hear about your students and this new worthwhile project!!!

  19. Sheri, as you know I worked as a registered nurse for a total of 35 years but with a break of 14 years to raise my kiddos. I can say without a doubt that the system is so broken that I’m not sure how it continues to survive. I became increasingly appalled at how the hierarchy ran the hospital where I worked. All they did to my knowledge was go to meeting after meeting with nothing valid or of importance decided to make changes for the better. Some of their ideas were moronic and made no sense at all. Many of us saw changes as a way for the top admins to get huge bonuses at the end of the year because “they saved the VA money.”

    • Yvonne – I thought of you and that was the main reason I put the caption on the photo, “The actions of a few have wipped out the heroic measures carried on by thousands who care for our veterans.” We know the administrators have destroyed the care the true medical profesionals attempt to put into place for patient care each and every day. The bonus for Tom and I is that his Psychiatrist – #1 doctor on Tom’s medical team and the only doctor we use at the VA exudes confidence and has never made a mistake with Tom. Each time another doctor in the civilian sector changes a medication Tom is on, I call Tom’s psychiatrist to ensure it’s a medication that won’t interact with any of the other medications Tom is on.
      Those huge bonuses have to stop and even when Congress continued to allow them to happen, happen they did.
      The only way we can improve our VA is through sound business practices and solid interaction with both the medical staff and patients.
      As always, thank you for reading with me and leaving comment. Sheri

  20. cindy knoke says:

    Our VA medical care system is an oxymoron. My husband is a professor of biostats and we have a lot of VA medical system physician friend. I am sending this to them. 20,000 people waiting while dying for care is disgusting.

    • Cindy – During the time I worked at the VA Hopital in Roseburg, OR, I had a radiologist approach me and ask if it were true he would be able to sleep most of the time on the job and that he would always have to work only 3 days a week for 5 days pay. [Alot of that happened during my year at the VA]. He was coming out of private practice and didn’t want to work hard. He just wanted to wait out his retirement. He was hired, however, I did place his statement on his application.
      I understand a little more about how patients are dying while awaiting care. I attempted to enroll a dear friend [Vietnam Veteran] into the enrollment on line system this past Friday night and would you believe, I found it impossible to do. I need to go take a class on how to made everything work the way it is. The friend is our pharmacist and he qualifies to be listed with Agent Orange Roster plus he needs to file for Agent Orange and other issues. Today, he still remains an unregistered veteran seeking care through the VA. Here we were, 2 people with advanced college degrees and we couldn’t figure out how to enroll him into the system. Someone could easily die while trying to figure out this complicated process.
      Another common thread from the past – Tom was a statician within the Army before being asked to join the elit, ‘Organizational Effectiveness Directive’ at Fort Ord. He was teaching other officers how to communicate verbally with their men/women when the officers went back to their respective commands. He’s worn a lot of hats but it’s not often the Army picks up a Ph.D. in someone that’s earned all of their advanced education in the military while being active duty, single father of 2 little girls and an incredible artician. I miss my Tom.
      Hope your weekend is going well. Sheri

  21. Absolutely what you said, if the VA is to survive, changes must be made. Let’s pray for this up-hill battle to help our vets.

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