June 17, 2014

Dear Sgt. Shaft,
My situation with my Harlingen, Texas VA is that back in 2010 they refused to refill my service connected meds. I filed an appeal and it went all the way to the VA at Washington, DC and got disapproved. Then I sent it to the President and never got a response from him. Then I got this letter from the U.S. Senator and he wrote to the Director VA at Harlingen, Texas. After the director told him they did not do anything wrong and that I was no longer enrolled with them and that they had nothing to do with this, that it was between Mr. Zavala and the United States, then the senator wrote to me and told me that he could not help me out, so I filed a form with the OIG and hope they can look into my claim and what the VA in Harlingen, Texas did to me. As of today I still don’t have any meds. I am a Retired Korean Veteran with a 70% VA Rating. Can you contact the OIG and tell them to look into my complaint/claim with this VA Clinic.

Retired SFC Victor Z
Via the internet

Dear Victor,
I referred your concern to the Department of Veterans Affairs Headquarters and they are checking into situation.

Shaft Notes
• The Honorable Tom Ridge today issued the following statement on the death of Carlton Sherwood, my good buddy and fellow Marine:

“Today I lost a good friend, Pennsylvania lost a great public servant and America lost a warrior patriot. A decorated Marine who served in Vietnam, Carlton had a unique ability to forge bonds with fellow veterans of all ages, and helped to tell their powerful stories as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. I first got to know Carlton when I was a young congressman, and he quickly became a valuable and trusted member of our team when I came to Harrisburg in 1995, helping me communicate my agenda across Pennsylvania. Most of all, Carlton was someone who always answered the call to service — whether for his community, his country or his family and friends. I will miss him dearly. Michele and I extend our deepest sympathy’s to Carlton’s wife, Susan, and their children.”

• Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan D. Gibson announced immediate actions to improve access to care for Veterans in Fayetteville, N.C. Today’s visit to the Fayetteville VA Medical Center (VAMC) follows the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) release of results from its Nationwide Access Audit, along with facility level patient access data.

“Far too many Veterans in Fayetteville — and across this country — are being told they have to wait in line. I’m here today to say that no Veteran should ever have to wait for the care they have earned through their service and sacrifice,” said Acting Secretary Gibson. “The data we released this week shows the extent of the problems we face. As the President has said, we must work together to fix the unacceptable, systemic problems in accessing quality healthcare. And that starts by addressing and solving the problems right here in Fayetteville.”

In addition to the system-wide actions taken in response to the audit findings and data, Gibson outlined actions to accelerate access to care for Veterans in Fayetteville:

• The Fayetteville VAMC is reaching out to all Veterans identified as waiting longer than 30 days for care to discuss individual medical needs and schedule appointments — more than 2,000 Veterans have been contacted.

• Gibson directed that the Fayetteville VAMC receive an additional $7.4 million from within VA’s budget specifically to accelerate access to care.

• Fayetteville VAMC has expanded hours — adding mornings, evenings and weekends — and deployed a mobile care unit to see patients.

• Gibson directed that the Fayetteville VAMC use temporary staffing measures, along with clinical and administrative support, to ensure these Veterans receive the care they have earned through their service.

• Gibson directed that the Fayetteville VAMC increase the use of established contracts with community partners to schedule Veterans waiting to be seen by a doctor.

• On Monday, VA announced the following actions in response to the Nationwide Access Audit findings and data:

• Establishing New Patient Satisfaction Measurement Program
Gibson has directed VHA to immediately begin developing a new patient satisfaction measurement program to provide real-time, robust, location-by-location information on patient satisfaction, to include satisfaction data of those Veterans attempting to access VA healthcare for the first time. This program will be developed with input from Veterans Service Organizations, outside healthcare organizations, and other entities. This will ensure VA collects an additional set of data — directly from the Veteran’s perspective — to understand how VA is doing throughout the system.

• Holding Senior Leaders Accountable
Where audited sites identify concerns within the parent facility or its affiliated clinics, VA will trigger administrative procedures to ascertain the appropriate follow-on personnel actions for specific individuals.

• Ordering an Immediate VHA Central Office and VISN Office Hiring Freeze
Gibson has ordered an immediate hiring freeze at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) central office in Washington D.C. and the 21 VHA Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) regional offices, except for critical positions to be approved by the Secretary on a case-by-case basis. This action will begin to remove bureaucratic obstacles and establish responsive, forward leaning leadership.

• Removing 14-Day Scheduling Goal
VA is eliminating the 14-day scheduling goal from employee performance plans. This action will eliminate incentives to engage in inappropriate scheduling practices or behaviors.

• Increasing Transparency by Posting Data Twice-Monthly
At the direction of the Acting Secretary, VHA will post regular updates to the access data released today at the middle and end of each month at VA.gov. Twice-monthly data updates will enhance transparency and provide the most immediate information to Veterans and the public on Veterans access to quality healthcare.

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