VA Whistleblower Report Shows Lack of Oversight

Exasperated Mike Coffman

Exasperated Mike Coffman

The Denver Post has more details today about a Veterans Administration whistleblower and an apparent lack of oversight with the VA:

A former high-ranking federal Veterans Affairs official responsible for overseeing the troubled Aurora medical center complex figures prominently in a whistleblower’s claims that the agency misspent at least $5 billion yearly through illegal contracts and other purchases.

Whistleblower Jan Frye, VA’s deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics, alleged in a 35-page letter to the VA secretary that a pattern of cover-up and indifference permeates all levels of the agency.

Frye accused Glenn Haggstrom, the former principle executive director of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction, and others with intentionally trying to hide transactions in which the VA wrongly bought pharmaceuticals, medical devices and other goods and services without contracts that are required by federal law.

What about Congress? The Post heard from Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), the Chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

“Incredibly, VA leaders either didn’t know or just didn’t care about the damage Haggstrom was doing,” Miller said in a statement to The Post. “In fact, they rewarded him for his reign of incompetence with tens of thousands in bonuses year after year after year.”

Hmmm…it seems like there should be a group of people…heck, a subcommittee even, who could provide a layer of oversight and protection for this sort of thing…

It also seems like this would be a good place in an article to insert the perspective of a Colorado resident with knowledge of the subject…

Alright, as you probably know, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) is not only a member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, but is also the CHAIRMAN OF THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND INVESTIGATONS. Oddly enough, Coffman just happens to represent the district which contains the $1.73+ billion Aurora VA Hospital boondoggle. It is a minor miracle that Coffman has largely managed to avoid any tough follow-up questions on a VA Hospital project mess occurring in his own backyard.

The tone and substance of this latest whistleblower report may have changed that, and from what we’re hearing of national media requests surrounding this story, Coffman may be getting a bit uncomfortable.

A whistleblower gets people to look up the ladder, wherein people start checking for names of the supervisor’s supervisors. It doesn’t take but a few steps up that ladder before you realize that the VA Hospital Project is in the home district of the Congressman who is the chair of Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee. That makes Coffman more than just interesting — it makes him a great headline: Aurora Hospital Boondoggle is in Oversight Chair’s Home District!

Unfortunately for Coffman, that’s when the questions get sour. How is it that the Oversight Chairman let this happen in his own backyard?


16 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. BlueCat says:

    Hope the local and national media covers this and that Dem pols talk about it at every opportunity. I'm sure Dems were on the sub-committee too so that's probably wishful thinking.

  2. It sounds like there's an awful lot of incompetence or outright corruption going around in the VA, including in the IG's office. Spring cleaning is in order – still.

    • BlueCat says:

      So pervasive and for so long you can't blame it on one party or one administration, either. 

      • mamajama55 says:

        I see it as a combination of old fashioned culture, including lack of medical adaptability for modern veterans, technical ineptitude, bloated defense budget fostering waste and corruption, decades of stupid unnecessary wars, and grandstanding politicians who bloviate about "honoring our heroes", but do almost nothing concrete.

        It is a really old fashioned culture – took them until last year to get all records computerized, and their system still won't talk to subcontractor's systems – on a practical level, this means that prescriptions and treatment modes are not available to the hospital staff that the veteran was transferred to because there are no beds available at the VA. The caregivers at the VA are excellent, caring people – but they are overwhelmed.

        That old fashioned vet culture is having trouble adapting to a decade of war in the middle east – older WWII and cold war vets, vietnam vets, have pretty much been taken care of by now if they applied. But the young Gulf war vets with missing limbs and TBI, that would have died if their injuries had happened in earlier wars, the VA hasn't adapted to that kind of ongoing care.

        So that's one problem -the technical issue . Then there is the bloated defense budget issue – since defense is the biggest single expenditure, there is a feeling that there must be money to burn, even though not much of that gargantuan DoD budget goes for vet's care.  So that contributes to waste and corruption. In the current fiasco, the architect had an expensive "hospital castle" in mind, instead of a humdrum hospital.

        Decades of stupid unnecessary wars where financial and human costs were deliberately hidden and detached from everyday life have made the VA a case of "out of sight, out of mind".

        Finally, you have politicians like Coffman, who are happy to have press conferences and express outrage, but don't follow up on the details to get the job done. As someone else said, it's a win-win for him, even though it's a lose-lose for veterans needing care.


  3. BlueCat says:

    Lengthy story in the Post covering allegations of a highly placed whistle blower. Pretty incredible (make that all too credible) stuff. Sorry to disappoint but it's all about malfeasance in the VA. Not a word about congressional over-sight in general or Coffman and his sub-committee in particular. And, no, letters to the editor read by a handful of people, left leaning political blogging and chats with your neighbor, while perfectly fine (I write letters a lot, canvass, phone bank and here I am on a left leaning blog), aren't going to make a dent.

    Since committees over the years during which all this has been taking place include Dems, I don't expect Dem pols to be exactly eager to lay blame at the door of committees they've served on. So I'll be surprised if Coffman's role is addressed in any noisy public way by Dem pols any time soon. Pretty sure seeing this whole thing as negative instead of a positive for Coffman is largely wishful thinking, regardless of anything we here can do about it. But keep it up anyway. Can't hurt.

    • mamajama55 says:

      I think that the conditions I've outlined at the VA (overwhelming workload, bottomless budget, failure to adapt to modern injuries, technically inept culture, opportunistic politiciians spewing "support our heroes" bombast,) has created the conditions in which this kind of long term corruption and hiding of malfeasance could flourish. If it were a tight ship,  this slime couldn't have thrived.

      I'm glad someone blew the whistle.  The VA does lurch from crisis to scandal to crisis, much like disabled vets themselves. So this continues that pattern.

      You're probably right that Coffman's reputation won't be dented by this, unless the whistleblower has some juicy tidbits to share about payoffs at the Congressional oversight level. We can always hope.

  4. notaskinnycook says:

    MamaJ, payoffs would make them corrupt. The story in the Post just made them seem can't-find-their-collective-ass-with-both-hands-and-a-GPS incompetent. I do wish the redistricting hadn't split the donut around Denver east and west this time. It used to be north and south and I somehow don't think Perlmutter would have let this go on as it has. Having a Congressman with a military background has done more harm than good for that district.

    • BlueCat says:

      It's in Aurora.

      • notaskinnycook says:

        I know where it is, B.C. I was an airman's brat so I got my medical care at Fitz. It's about a mile and a half from the house I grew up in (where my mom still lives). it was in CD 7 from 2000-2010. 

      • mamajama55 says:

        Cook is right- the  Anschutz campus in Aurora, including the construction site of the new VA hospital,  was in Perlmutter's old district 7. And he did do his best to try to jumpstart it, several times.

        According to the whistleblower, though, people were straight up lying and concealing information about both the construction project and regular operations at the VA hospital. That's what "oversight" means, though – you get in there and spot check stuff, protect the would-be whistleblowers, get your hands dirty, find out why deadlines aren't met and sort it out….Mr. Coffman.

        Degette is calling BS on Coffman's political games, at the cost of being accused of political gaming herself.  She showed at all the ribbon-cuttings and did the usual things, but I searched in vain for any criticism by her of the cost overruns or delays when they were happening. The old VA hospital, but not the new one, is in her district.

        Meanwhile, the main contractor on this debacle, Kiewitt Turner, has a very upbeat  website with lots of pretty photos and absolutely no news about cost overruns, construction delays, etc. 

    • BlueCat says:

      Sorry. You said Denver so I misunderstood.

  5. notaskinnycook says:

    Degette has a legacy dog in this fight. Before CD 7 was carved out as a result of the 2000 census, the Fitzsimmons/Anchutz land was in CD1. She has her own constituency now, but I hope she can find time to help rattle a few cages. I doubt Lamebrain can be prevailed upon to bestir himself, but if the rest of the delegation would band together and kick a few cans at the V.A. the facility just might get done before the vets who need the place are eligible for retirement.

  6. debbielynnepaint says:

    I actually heard a Republican Senator from Georgia say today that the Corps of Engineers should take over building VA facilities.  The COE would be going from bad to worse.  These Republicans never fail to amaze me.

  7. notaskinnycook says:

    Professional courtesy; those military guys gotta stick together 

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