From: North, Jim
Sent: Thursday, August 04, 2005 8:06 PM
To: 'Phillips, Jeffrey E'; 'Jim Doran'
Subject: Office of Inspector General, Dept of VA

Jeff,

The Department of Veterans Affairs is suppose to help Disabled Veterans too, right? Good, maybe you can help me and there's no funding required?

Since you work at the Department of Veterans Affairs, can you ask or have Mr. Buyer ask Ms. Lavine, Director, Hotline Division (see her attach letter) at the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General, why my VA Pay does not fall under her jurisdiction, at the VA Department?

I'm bewildered? VA Pay comes from the VA Department, Retainer Pay comes from DOD DFAS.

VA pay comes from the VA Finance Center which is located at 1615 E Woodward St., Austin, TX 78772-7830, not from DFAS, the only thing DFAS does is prints-out/makes available online or mails to me, a pay stub with the amount that the VA Department pays to me.

Remember me, I'm the one that my attorney and the opposing attorney fraudulently drafted a divorce decree and awarded by VA Pay as a property settlement to my former spouse then the attorneys handed it over to a judge who signed this fraudulent document who then had it mailed to DFAS? Of course DFAS took the fraudulent document because they only have Para legal clerks that work there and apparently, either by mistake or fraud on their part, they accepted the divorce decree that awarded my VA Pay to a third party in violation of U.S. Code, Title 38, Section 5301 (Nonassignability and exempt status of VA disability benefits, amended December 2003 by Congress). This federal law is about VA Pay from the Department of Veterans Affairs, not my retainer pay at DFAS.

Why not have the divorce decrees go through the VA Department, especially since the states are illegally awarding the VA pay to third parties, in violation of federal laws?

Why can't Ms. Lavine of the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General accept responsibility and ensure the above law is being complied with, at the state level? Seems simple enough? Why does she not take a pro-active look into this situation instead of passing the buck? You know what DFAS is going to say, "we just handle Retainer Pay, not VA pay."

The judge that illegally awarded my VA pay to the ex spouse expected me to write her a monthly check from my personal bank account, how's that got anything to do with DFAS? What the VA should be doing is telling the Judge "NO" your violating federal laws, can't do that.

One would think that the VA Department (especially the Inspector General's Office) would try to figure out a way to fix this unjust system, instead of just returning a letter back to me with no favorable results? Like ...maybe have a VA representative also review the divorce decrees at DFAS to ensure that VA pay is only awarded within the limits of the law? Or ...maybe have DFAS reject divorce decrees that are not within the limits of the law concerning VA Pay? I'd be glad to help, but I'm sure if someone over there really thinks about it, they can come up with some good ideas to ensure that the laws are followed which will then, really make us veterans happy :)

Semper Fi,

Jim

PS - Can you forward this email to Ms Lavine and maybe she could enlighten me with why I must go to DFAS concerning the judge illegally awarding my VA Pay to a third party? I have numerous letters from DFAS that I would be glad to provide to all concern, that also passes the buck away from them too.

PPS - What is Jim North asking for? A investigation and corrective action into why the state courts are ordering disabled veterans to give up their VA Disability Pay to a third party, in violation of federal laws. Maybe the Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General can do this? I was on the Inspector General's Team (Pay and Allowances) while assigned to the Third Marine Aircraft Wing, G-1 while on active duty at one time and would be glad to assist, if that's really necessary?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

From: Phillips, Jeffrey E [mailto:jphillips@mail.house.gov]
Sent: Thursday, August 04, 2005 6:04 PM
To: 'Jim Doran'
Cc: North, Jim
Subject: We need a new subject title

I have been on Blackberry with its tiny screen since Tuesday, so am just giving this a good read now, Jim.

I know you know this committee doesn't focus on DoD hiring and firing. But we do have great interest in the performance of VA managers. I will not dispute your assertion of problems in the system. It strikes me as odd that it's always a matter of more money to fix it -- whatever "it" is, and not also good senior managers holding other managers and workers accountable for good work (and reduced bureaucracy). I think you see that -- you attack the bureaucracy with conviction.

Jim, I worked directly for both Secretary Principi and now for Chairman Buyer. Whether or not you want to believe me, I'll tell you straight up that one cares about veterans every bit as much as the other.

Regarding 46 percent (and now more, I think, as the $1.5 billion 2005 supplemental passed), it does mean something. I wonder where the outrage was from 1965 to 1995, when veterans spending never exceeded 2 percent a year in constant dollars (and that spanned our nation's longest war, where the VA had the miserable reputation that spawned the movie, "Born on the Fourth of July.") In the ten years from 1983 to 1993, total veterans' spending saw zero growth in constant dollars. But we see a nearly 50 percent rise in health care spending since 2001 and an almost-doubling between 1995 and now, and it's "meaningless." Citing civilian inflation numbers is suspect as it does not take VA's economies into consideration. Yes, attracting doctors and nurses is tough -- it's tough everywhere, I understand. And we should ensure VA can compete in that market.

When VA eligibility reform was being developed in 1995, Medicare subvention was considered to be an important part of its success. It didn't happen. It probably should; it may yet. Are the VSOs loudly demanding it?

And Jim, the Chairman just visited the VA Polytrauma Center at the VAMC in Minneapolis. I was with him. (One of the people who met him there was a county veterans service officer. Chairman Buyer has met personally with both the former and the current presidents of the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers, and has submitted columns for their newsletter.)

Here's the release from yesterday's visit:

CHAIRMAN BUYER CONFIRMS QUALITY CARE FOR COMBAT WOUNDED

Buyer Visits Minnesota Polytrauma Center

Washington, D.C. - Chairman Steve Buyer and Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) on Tuesday inspected the care being provided to veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom recovering from combat wounds at the VA Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center (PRC) in Minneapolis, Minn.

"We who have served have a responsibility that does not end with our uniformed service," said Buyer, a veteran of Operation Desert Storm. "We must ensure that the VA system is properly equipped and its staff is well trained, so that when our servicemembers come back and need VA, it is there for them."

During their visit to the center, which is part of the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, Buyer and Kline spoke with staff and patients. The center is one of VA's four regional PRCs. It provides rehabilitation care for veterans returning from combat with severe injuries that may include traumatic brain injuries, amputations, wounds, blindness or hearing disorders, complex orthopedic injuries, and mental health concerns. The other VA PRCs are in Palo Alto, Calif.; Richmond, Va.; and Tampa, Fla.

"There is nothing like being on-site and listening to the people who are actually giving the care and to the people who are actually getting the care," Kline, a retired U.S. Marine colonel, said.

Patients in the centers have typically been treated at military treatment facilities and are transferred to the VA at a time coordinated between the military and VA for longer term rehabilitation. The center's chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation, Dr. Barbara Sigford, said that almost half of patients have mental health concerns in addition to their other injuries.

"We are here because polytrauma is a prime example of battlefield-to-health care - seamless transition from DoD to VA," Buyer said.
Buyer and Kline spoke privately with a wounded veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, an Army sergeant who praised his care at the PRC and compared it to the care he got at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

"Rhetoric criticizing the Administration for its lack of care and compassion for our combat wounded is inaccurate, has a corrosive effect on those who are serving, and creates doubt whether care will be there for them if they need it," Buyer said.

The system is not without flaws that must be corrected. VA staff told Buyer and Kline of problems they encounter getting complete medical records. Concerns about the sharing of sensitive personal information have impeded timely exchange of critical medical information between VA and DoD. VA thus depends on what military hospitals provide them. That makes VA's job tougher.

"We have been at this for three years and we still have VA facilities across from military facilities and they can't talk to each other. This is a leadership problem," Buyer said. "We have great doctors, nurses, therapists and volunteers ensuring high-quality care - we saw that here today. They deserve the best systems to back them up, and that's our responsibility in Washington."

"As a veteran and a Member of Congress I am encouraged by what we saw today," Kline said. "The high standard of care provided to the patients at this facility is far beyond what was available to me and my contemporaries during my 25 years of service. I look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Buyer to ensure the standard remains high and our veterans continue to receive unparalleled care."
###

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
From: Jim Doran [mailto:jwdoran@comcast.net]
Sent: Monday, August 01, 2005 7:13 PM
To: Phillips, Jeffrey E
Cc: North, Jim
Subject: Re: RE:Northwest Herald: Senate Votes To Boost Veterans' HealthCare

Jeff,

Some of what I wrote was simply busting chops, I know. But, sometimes I just can't help myself. It's kind of like sailors and Marines. As a retired sailor I can't help but take the occasional shot at my two bosses. As former Marines, they can't help but return fire!!

The fact of the matter is this, the Chairman has pretty much alienated the VSOs. That's a given. What he needs to do to win them (us) back is to not only tell us what he wants to do, but explain to us why and listen to us as we explain why we are for or against a specific item. He's been pretty good on the telling part, but not so good on the explaining or the listening segments.
As for the staff, like staffers everywhere, whether they be in the Cannon Building or the AMVETS NHQ, we all strive to do what's best for the vet, within the guidelines/restraints levied upon us by the HMIC.
My way or the highway - nah, I'm pretty open, but I just don't see the exchange of information and the working together between Chairman Buyer and the VSOs nor Secretary Nicholson and the VSOs. Maybe having Chairman Smith and Secretary Principi spoiled us, but we felt like we were all working together. It doesn't feel that way now.

Accountability of upper management in VA is something that I would love to see. Making an example of a VISN or VARO Director on occasion may be worthwhile. I found it extremely morale destroying to see the Under Secretary of Health "resigning" because of the St. Pete fiasco while the SecDef walked away clean on the POW Maltreatment issue. If we're going to dump on junior generals, field grade officers, and EM for the POW issue, we should also have dumped on the VISN Director, Hospital Director, and Chief of Staff for the St. Pete issue. On the other hand dumping on Roswell as the responsible political appointee should have also resulted in dumping on Rumsfeld. (The Iraq troops, as part of a joint command, are under the auspices of the SecDef not the assorted service Secretaries.)

I'd really appreciate it if you could explain to me why VA doesn't have it's own, independent, appropriation bill.

Cynical? Me!! Sometimes. It's hard not to be when dealing with bureaucrats who don't really give a darn about anything other than their own turf, when I receive letters or e-mails every month telling me how certain Federal agencies just ignore Veterans Preference, when I get calls from vets who can't get a claim handled or get into see a doctor. In my own little world, I've had a CRSC Claim pending at the Board of Correction of Naval Records for almost a year, a claim for Tinnitus hanging at VARO Baltimore for almost as long, and after being advised to see my PCP ASAP concerning a hernia, finding that in VA Speak ASAP means slightly over three months. I've even been waiting for a call back from my PCP since last week Wednesday - and I have a pipeline direct to Dr. Perlin and VADM Cooper. How is the vet in the street treated??

I'm not implying 46% is not 46%, because it's not. 46% is a meaningless number if improperly allocated. It's a meaningless number when the Administration wants to significantly raise the co-pays for vets. It's a meaningless number when VA can't compete successfully for medical professionals in some markets. It's a meaningless number when some of it must be spent on buildings that can't be used and when capital improvements funds must be spent on healthcare.

From the Hay group:
"PHILADELPHIA, March 3, 2005: Company medical insurance premiums for 2005 rose approximately 10%, representing the sixth year of double-digit rate increases. These increases are sharply higher than the US Consumer Price Index that was 3.3% for 2004, and an average annual 2.7% for the last six years."
About Hay Group
Hay Group is a global organizational and human resources consulting firm that helps its clients-Boards, CEOs, Executives, and HR Managers-on virtually all aspects of their people-related business issues. Founded in 1943, Hay Group has over 2,200 employees working from 77 offices in 42 countries.
There are dozens of other websites that show us the same thing. So if we're looking at 6 years of annual double digit healthcare cost increases, can we assume 72% vs the VAs 46%? Why can we not get Medicare/Medicaid to pay their fair share of VA healthcare? Tricare pays, private insurance companies pay (sometimes). But, rather than bill Medicare we hit the vet twice. First we charge him $78 or so per month for Medicare Part B than we hit him with bills from the VA. Why?
Back to bricks and mortar. I can read you the CARES report, but I'm sure you've already read it. I can point out a number of them at VAMC North Chicago. VAMC Baltimore has none. Those are the only two VA facilities I've used (other than a CBOC) for healthcare.
This whole thing is a pain in the arse. We, the people, sent these young men (you and I included) to perform hazardous duties on our behalf. Those that come back and need our help, medically, aren't getting the help they've earned and deserve. That, in itself, is a travesty. Yet to see VA professionals battling to do what they can while the Administration (not just Bush, but every Administration during my lifetime) creates more and more veterans for VA to deal with just makes me want to cry.
Perhaps you could suggest to the Chairman that instead of sitting in Washington, the Committee try something different. They could go to some place like Hebron, IL; Superior, MT; Superior, WI; or some other small northern community, in January or February and try to drive to the nearest VA hospital for an 0800 appointment - then do it again as if they were 80+ years old, or seriously disabled, or indigent and don't have the means to drive. When I was a county veteran service officer in Woodstock, IL I had one full time and one part time driver, with three vehicles, who did nothing but drive around the county picking up elderly, disabled, or indigent veterans for a 35 mile trek to VAMC North Chicago or 50 miles to VAMC Hines, or 70 miles to VAMC Milwaukee. Today, 2 1/2 years later, their are 2 full time drivers and one part time driver and all of the vehicles are on the road three days a week, with two of them running five days a week - and they can't keep up with the demand.
Anyway, this missive has gone on long enough. But it's nice to finally have someone who listens.

Jim

----- Original Message -----
From: Phillips, Jeffrey E
To: 'Jim Doran'
Cc: North, Jim
Sent: Monday, August 01, 2005 5:58 PM
Subject: RE:Northwest Herald: Senate Votes To Boost Veterans' HealthCare

"I'm not accusing the two Chairmen of being anti-veteran . . ."

"If they really supported the VA, they'd push for mandatory funding . . . "

"if the House Committee on VA really really wanted to ensure veterans healthcare was funded and handled properly..."

Jim, forgive me if I detect a conflict in the sentences above.

Jim, I don't know if it's your intent to sound "my way or the highway," but Chairman Buyer strongly supports the VA. He also demands that they do what the taxpayers pay them to do. I could go into more detail, but VFW Commander-in Chief John Furgess, addressing Congress in March, said it well, calling on VA to "start acting like a business and create a corporate culture of accountability that rewards success and penalizes failure."

I recall the backlog in appointments topping 300,000 in 2002. Disgraceful. With some effort, VHA got it back down when they were given no excuses by then-Secretary Principi.

I don't know why the VA budget isn't its own separate bill. I'll find out. I don't buy your cynicism though.

If you are implying that 46 percent isn't really 46 percent because it also pays the hospital heating and the mechanics for the MRI machine, and so forth, I think that's a little specious: doctors don't work in isolation, without support. Such support is integral to the modern practice of medicine. I don't understand the question about the percentage increase for civilian health care. I understand that Medicaid and Medicare funding (mandatory funding) lagged VA health care. VA's expenses are also likely below the civilian sector's, because VA gets much of its material (such as drugs) below civilian-sector costs.

My understanding of CARES is that it is precisely the mission of that initiative to rid VA of unnecessary brick-and-mortar, Jim. It's tough to do that for the same reasons it's hard to close a military base. Do you know of any specific unnecessary buildings you think VA should close or transfer?

Regarding "the dark side," Jim, it was an honor to serve veterans in VA and it's an honor to serve them here.

I appreciate your service to veterans.

Jeff

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
From: Jim Doran [mailto:jwdoran@comcast.net]
Sent: Sunday, July 31, 2005 9:00 AM
To: North, Jim; Phillips, Jeffrey E
Subject: Re: Fwd: Northwest Herald: Senate Votes To Boost Veterans' HealthCare

Jeff,
Of course they backed the House vote to fill the shortfalls. I'm not accusing the two Chairmen of being anti-veteran. What I'm saying is they don't want to lose the control they have over the discretionary funding of certain agencies/programs.

If they really supported the VA, they'd push for mandatory funding of Veterans Healthcare.

I also believe that the Independent Budget put out by AMVETS/DAV/PVA/VFW called for the additional funding for VHA that OMB felt wasn't needed. Now they've found that we were right after all!

As for the espoused view on why the VA Budget was grouped with the Military Quality of Life budget, that's plain old horse hockey.

If the House Committee on Appropriations was really concerned about the "more logical and complementary grouping..." than VA would have a separate bill, which it should as the second largest department of the Government. Why isn't Military Quality of Life in the DOD Appropriations bill instead of tied into VA?

Jeff, I'm not going to dispute your 46% increase in VHA funding for the past 5 years. Mostly because I'm at home and don't have "easy access" to the numbers. I also know that your going over to the "darkside" (LOL) from VA gives you a little bit more access than I have. However, during that same 5 year period, what was the per centage increase of civilian healthcare? Was it more or less than 46%?

How much of the 46% went to administrative salaries and maintenance vice healthcare? How much went to maintaining buildings that are on the historical register, belong to VHA, yet cannot be used for healthcare purposes due to the needed upgrades violating the standards of the historical register? Why aren't these buildings transferred to Interior or the Smithsonian or some such?

I would also like you and Jim to understand, that even though I am in senior management at AMVETS, I'm not necessarily spouting the AMVETS line. These views are mine, and although I have a little more access and information available than the average vet, I'm still just a grass roots veteran.

Jeff, if the House Committee on VA really really wanted to ensure veterans healthcare was funded and handled properly they'd pass a healthcare bill that would no longer allow Members of Congress, Senators, and the President to use the National Naval Medical Center Bethesda for their healthcare. Instead they'd have to use the Veterans Affairs Medical Center Washington. I'll bet the appointment backlog would disappear pdq and funds would flow into VHA where it was needed and not into foreign aid for third world countries who can't help us, don't like us, and in which a large share of the funds don't get used for their original purpose.

Jim Doran