Op-ed: New VA Inspector General Promises To Focus On The Integrity At VA
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By: Brooks Outland
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Several years ago (2008), the Department of Veterans’ Affairs was accused of covering-up the mismanagement of the VA’s Beneficiary Travel Reimbursement Program which occurred at the Matsunaga VA Clinic in Honolulu, Hawaii.
As the subject of “Mismanagement of a VA Program” was one of the issues the VAOIG listed as a matter which should be reported to them, this permanently disabled Veteran reported the mismanagement in an official report to the Clinic and to the Pacific Islands Health Care System (PIHCS). Lacking even an acknowledgement of the report, or a response, I forwarded an official report to the VAOIG. The office of the VAOIG advised that they would not investigate the matter, but would return the report to the PIHCS for response. A response from PIHCS or any other VA Command has never been received.
The Matsunaga Clinic denied travel reimbursements to all VA patients residing on the island of Oahu. The Clinic held that no VA patients lived far enough from the Clinic to be eligible for reimbursement of travel expenses. From 1978 until January 2004, the VA reimbursement rate was a mere eleven (.11) cents per mile. Using that rate, less the $6.00 roundtrip deductible, a patient had to live at least 27.28 miles from the Clinic. To explain: .11 cents per mile times the roundtrip mileage of 54.54 miles equals $5.999, less the $6.00 deductible, leaving ZERO travel reimbursement. The Clinic mistakenly decided that no one on Oahu lived far enough from the Clinic to be eligible for travel reimbursement.
There were, indeed, VA patients residing on Oahu that lived farther than 27.28 miles. Additionally, if any eligible patient made a fourth trip in the same month, the deductible did not apply and the patient would be owed the full.11 cents per mile for the total miles travelled!
From 1978 until 2004 many deserving Veterans residing on Oahu were cheated/bilked out of travel reimbursements due them.
When it became apparent to the VA that I did not intend to “stand down” on my inquiry regarding this case of mismanagement, it seemed obvious to me that a “gag order” was issued to all VA commands, ordering them not to discuss the matter with me or anyone else. Phone calls, emails, voice mails, and personal letters were all ignored! I was regarded as “persona non grata!”
Hawaii Senator Hirono and Congresswoman Gabbard were informed of the obvious cover-up. Senator Hirono made a couple inquiries to the VA, but to my knowledge the VA did not respond!
I possess a rather large file on this issue, should the new VAOIG be interested in the factual background.
Perhaps the Staff at VAOIG would make certain that the new IG (Mr. Michael Missal) is personally aware of this disgraceful cover-up. Since Mr. Missal has promised to focus on issues of fraud, abuse, and the integrity of the VA in general, perhaps he might agree that the denied reimbursements should be paid to the affected VA patients.
Brooks Outland is a Korean and Vietnam war veteran.He volunteered to serve in Vietnam because he was keen to help the people of South Vietnam keep their freedom and their country from communist takeover by the North. After retiring Brooks and his wife spent eight years volunteering aboard his old battleship, USS Missouri (BB-63), before returning to the mainland in Arkansas in 2015.