U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a member of both the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee, has an amendment included in the mark-up of the fiscal year 2015 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to force the release of reports by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of the Medical Inspector (OMI) on their investigations into wrongdoing at VA facilities. Unlike reports from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), OMI reports are not made public or released to Congress. Because OMI reports are not available for review, it is impossible to know whether the VA has taken any action to implement the OMI’s recommendations for improvement in each case of wrongdoing.
“The Administration continues to say that action will be taken if the ‘allegations prove to be true,’” Sen. Moran said. “We do not need more damage control – we need to eliminate the damage being done to our nation’s veterans. The fact is, many of the same VA facilities and cases receiving attention today have already been investigated and the claims have been substantiated in years past – yet we do not know what action has been taken because the OMI reports are not made public. This amendment will allow Americans, the press, Congress and veterans to see what the VA knew, when they knew it and what they did about it.”
Sen. Moran’s amendment, which is coauthored by U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), requires the VA to submit routine Reports to Congress on the findings and recommendations stemming from any OMI report. The initial Report to Congress will cover Medical Inspector reports over the last four years detailing the findings, recommendations and legal or administrative actions resulting from the investigation. Sen. Moran’s amendment will require the VA to detail any legal or administrative action taken against employees identified in these investigations, who should not be serving veterans and whether such action was followed through.
For example, the same Cheyenne VA Medical Center under fire for wait-list manipulation after a whistleblower leaked an email shedding light on the violations being committed was already the subject of an Office of the Medical Inspector report in December 2013. That report already investigated and substantiated claims of improper scheduling practices and passed them along to the Office of Special Counsel, but the report was only leaked to the public after a whistleblower went public this month. It is still unclear if any action was taken at the Cheyenne VA Medical Center based on the OMI findings in 2013.
According to OMI, their unreleasedBlue Cover Reportscontain conclusions and recommendations for improvement, based on findings from a case investigation or national assessment. The OMI’s recommendations may be for an individual facility, a Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) or all of VHA. The Under Secretary for Health approves all OMI final reports, and in response to a final report, VA facilities, VISNs and VHA program offices – as appropriate – prepare action plans to address report recommendations.
VHA policy requires that OMI provide copies of all final reports and their recommended action plans to the VA Secretary and nine other offices within the VA, including: Under Secretary for Health; Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health; Deputy Under Secretary of Health for Operations and Management; Office of Quality and Safety; Office of Performance Management; Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Policy and Services; Freedom of Information Act Officer (FOIA); VA Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs; Office of Healthcare Inspections, VA Office of the Inspector General; and any other offices or facilities responsible for policy related to the report or for carrying out any part of the action plan.
It is unclear what criteria the VA uses to select either the OMI or the OIG with conducting investigations into VA wrongdoing.
Sen. Moran has been a member of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees for 18 years, chaired the Health Subcommittee in the House for two years, and has worked with nine VA Secretaries. The hearing followed Sen. Moran’scall for Secretary Shinseki to resignamidst ongoing systemic dysfunction within the VA.