Click to see preamble.


AUGUST 9, 2015


"Philly VA Whistleblower Update"
with Kristen Ruell & Ken Crandall

HOUR 2   

Today we will be updating the Philly VA scandal with three whistleblowers from that facility. We've done some previous shows on veteran issues that you might enjoy: CLICK TO VIEW
Double Payments Bedevil Veterans’ Pension System
By JAMES DAO SEPT. 22, 2012

PHILADELPHIA — In July 2010, a Department of Veterans Affairs employee named Kristen Ruell was updating a benefit claim when she noticed something odd. What should have been an increase of about $2,000 in a monthly payment to the widow of a veteran showed up on her computer screen as $21,000.

Puzzled, she set the claim aside and began digging into computer files for an answer. What she found surprised and worried her: the department’s database contained duplicate records for the widow, and the system was trying to pay her twice. It was also recommending a retroactive payment dating back months — though the widow had already been paid for that period.

After seeing the same problem in other claims, Ms. Ruell, who works on a quality review team at a veterans pension management center in Philadelphia, says she raised red flags with her bosses. If she, one of scores of payment authorizers nationwide, was just noticing the duplicate payments, was it not likely that the department had inadvertently overpaid many other people for years?
Ryan Cease, left, Kristen Ruell and Ken Crandall are among the workers who have raised questions about duplicate payments in the Department of Veterans Affairs pension system. Credit Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times

Two years later, that concern has not been resolved, Ms. Ruell and several other pension management workers say.

CLICK HERE to read more

Philadelphia and Oakland:
Systemic Failures and Mismanagement | Apr 22, 2015

HEARING: House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Part 1
Interesting to note that Dianna Rubens is now the Director of this facility. She was compensated some $300,000+ to relocate from DC to Philly and you can hear all about that in the testimony. Chairman Miller fires some very pointed questions in Part 1 of the video above starting at 2:49 (2 hrs 49 min). Part 2
Rhetoric v. Reality: Investigating the Continued Failures of the Philadelphia VA Regional Office | Oct 3, 2014

HEARING: Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (DAMA)
Evaluation of the Process to Achieve VBA Goals | Jul 14, 2014

HEARING: House Committee on Veterans' Affairs
This is a picture of Ken Crandall's desk after 3 months on the job!!!! These were all veterans returning from Iraq who had very complex claims. By setting him up with cases well beyond his ability the veteran was cheated and Ken consistently received poor reviews. Note the folders (called volumes) banded together. Those are complex cases.
Is A Manager At Philadelphia VA Threatening Whistleblowers Over Twitter?

@lina_g148 appears to match the name of Lina Giampa, the Philly VA human resources manager.
And ... pesky public records suggest that her house number is 148.
Yikes @lina_g148 Twitter slogan says "I hate stupid people" and, well, ahem, uh, gee that is awkward. Thank goodness it has since been changed!
Were nasty tweets aimed at VA whistle blowers? - philly/ news/ 201507... Proxy Highlight
Jul 15, 2015 ... The first tweets were posted on the same day last year that ... A spokeswoman from the Philadelphia VA benefits office did not respond to an ...

Is A Manager At Philadephia VA Threatening Whistleblowers?

The  2015/ 07/ 17/ is-a-manager... Proxy Highlight


Jul 17, 2015 ... On the same day investigators arrived at the Philadelphia VA regional office, a manager reportedly tweeted out threatening messages to ...
Manager removed at Philly VA after IG audit slams facility - Veterans ... news/ veterans/ manager-removed-a... Proxy Highlight
Apr 18, 2015 ... A Philadelphia VA office kept veterans waiting for months to get ... Details from the IG report on Philadelphia VA ... Twitter: @Travis_Tritten ...
Philadelphia VA facing inquiry of its management - Washington Times news/ 2015/ mar/ 23/ p... Proxy Highlight
Mar 23, 2015 ... New VA scandal brewing in Philadelphia ... The union local representing workers in the Philadelphia VA office alerted ..... Find us on Twitter.
Philadelphia VA announces benefits office probe - The News Journal story/ news/ nation... Proxy Highlight
Mar 25, 2015 ... VA Inspector General report on claims mismanagement due in early April. ... 13 CONNECT 9 TWEETLINKEDIN 1 COMMENTEMAILMORE ... at its Philadelphia benefits center despite the imminent release of a VA Inspector ...
Carney: Philly VA benefits office has `poor management' story/ delawaredefens... Proxy Highlight
Jun 15, 2015 ... John Carney ripped into the troubled Philadelphia VA Regional Office ... 112 CONNECT 5 TWEET 1 LINKEDIN 5 COMMENTEMAILMORE. Rep
Government audit faults Philly VA official's psychic party

Government audit faults Philly VA official's psychic party | Pittsburgh ... news/ health/ 2015/ 05... Proxy Highlight
May 28, 2015 ... A ranking manager of the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs benefits office misused her position by hosting a party where her employees were ...

Psychic medium party cited in removal of VA managers - philly/ news/ 201506... Proxy Highlight
Jun 1, 2015 ... The VA said Philadelphia Veterans Affairs employees Lucy Filipov (left) and Gary Hodge have been "temporarily relieved" while it investigates philly/ news/ 201505... Proxy  Highlight
May 28, 2015 ... Each met privately with the medium, who held a crystal and said a ... addresses a press conference at the Philadelphia VA Hospital on Sept. story/ news/ 2015/ 06/ 01/ ... Proxy  Highlight
Jun 1, 2015 ... The VA said Monday it had temporarily suspended two of its officials ... manager at the Philadelphia office, whose wife provided the psychic ...
Audit finds improper behavior at Philadelphia VA facility - The ... news/ nationworld/ pennsylva Proxy  Highlight
May 28, 2015 ... Audit: Philly VA subordinates charged money to attend work-related ... a work- related party featuring psychic readings, resulting in personal ...
Two Philadelphia VA Morons Suspended Yesterday 2015/ 06/ 02/ two-phil... Proxy  Highlight
Jun 2, 2015 ... Two Philadelphia VA morons and formerly highly paid VA officials are ... RELATED: VA Official Pushed Psychic Readings On Subordinates.

VA OIG Calls Out Fraud And Abuse At Philadelphia VA 2015/ 05/ 29/ va Proxy  Highlight
May 29, 2015 ... DOWNLOAD: Full Philadelphia VA report ... the private enterprise, and invited subordinates to her home to take part in psychic readings.

Congressman: Philly VA leaders wanted to monitor his staff on unannounced
Congressional staff on an unannounced visit to the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs regional office July 2 were given work space in a room wired with an active microphone and camera, according to the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

During the same visit - made to investigate claims of mismanagement at the Germantown facility - one congressional staffer saw and snapped a picture of a note containing an offensive description of a woman on her team.

Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.) said the note was written by the office's then-acting director, Lucy Filipov, the same administrator who directed the team to the wired room.

"Congressional staff has a constitutional responsibility to unfettered access to files, and there should be no reason that anybody would monitor their discussions," Miller said Tuesday, reiterating criticism he lodged during a contentious hearing of the House committee Monday night in Washington.

That hearing brought forward new details in the ongoing investigation of data manipulation at the city's VA office, which oversees benefits for 825,000 veterans in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey and also houses one of the country's three pension management centers.

Details of the July 2 visit in Philadelphia, aired as the more-than-five-hour hearing stretched into the night, seemed to inflame existing tensions between some committee members and VA leadership.

A few lawmakers called for Diana Rubens, the director of the Philadelphia center, to be fired.

Monday was her first official day on the job.

Allison Hickey, the VA undersecretary for benefits, did not offer her own interpretation of Filipov's note.

"I will just tell you without question it is unacceptable," she said at the hearing. "And I offer on behalf of the department my sincere apologies to your staff who experienced that that day and my commitment that it will not happen again."

Walinda West, deputy director for media relations for the VA, said there was no intention to monitor or record the staffers' activities. She deferred further comment on that and the other issues to the statements made by Rubens and Hickey during Monday's hearing.

Attempts to reach Rubens and Hickey on Tuesday through VA spokespeople were unsuccessful.

Touring the office

Miller said he asked his staff to visit the city's VA center July 2 to spend a day reviewing files, meeting with employees, and touring the office. The team notified administrators they were coming about 9 a.m., then arrived about 20 minutes later, he said.

As they waited in a conference room for an administrator to greet them, one staffer got up to use the restroom, Miller said. Near the bathroom's sinks, the staffer found a yellow spiral notebook with the words "ask ignore Rory" - referencing the committee's staff director, Rory Riley - scribbled half way down the page.

Miller said the notebook belonged to Filipov, now the center's assistant director, who met with the congressional staff moments later. Filipov wrote the notes during an earlier conversation that morning with Rubens, who at the time was the Veterans Benefits Administration undersecretary for field operations.

Miller believes Rubens instructed Filipov to ignore his team's requests for information.

"The acting director was in possession of a note upon which was written ignore my staff. Am I surprised? No. Actually I'm shocked," Miller said at Monday's hearing.

The note also included two comments beside Riley's name: "arrogance" and "stick up her ass."

At the top of the paper were written and circled the last names of two whistle-blowers from the Philadelphia office, Ryan Cease and Kristen Ruell.

Ruell was one of three whistle-blowers who testified at Monday's hearing, where she voiced concerns including veterans being paid twice and dates being changed so old claims appear new.

On Tuesday, Ruell said she thought her name was included because Rubens believed she was responsible for the staffers' visit. But Ruell said she did not ask them to come.

"Any time anything negative happens at the office they just assume it's me," said Ruell, who has criticized management at her office before. "It proves the Whistleblower Act is a joke."

At the hearing, Rubens said she had told Filipov that the congressional staff might want to meet with the whistle-blowers. She said that while she did not know their names, Filipov did, and wrote them down on her notepad.

Miller said that after the staffers met with Filipov, she said they could work that day in a room on the third floor that is often used for hearings and teleconferencing. While another administrator said they could stay in the room they were in, Filipov insisted three times that they move to the other space, Miller said.

A different room

On Tuesday, he said that once in that room, the staff saw two microphones by a telephone and a camera on top of a television - all with lights indicating they were on.

He said the staffers asked to be moved to another space, and they were.

Rubens officially became the director of the Philadelphia regional office Monday and has been transitioning into that position since early June. While some members of the congressional staff called for her to be fired because of Filipov's note, at least one member disagreed.

Rep. Corrine Brown (D., Fla.) said it was inappropriate for the staffer to read the notepad in the first place.

"I hope no one ever loses their job for a note in the bathroom on a pad," she said.      610-313-8205      @TriciaNadolny
These are notes about Chairman Miller's staff dictacted by Diana Rubens (VA Undersecretary staff in DC) to Lucy Filipov (Philly VA Acting Director). Note the name of whistleblowers "Ryan Cease and Kristen Ruell" circled at the top of the page.

These notes were left on the women's bathroom sink by Ms. Filipov the day of the inspection. One of Chairman Miller's staff who is characterized below in such unflattering terms that the committee whited out the actual wording came into the restroom, saw the notes and took a photo of them. This copy was given to all members of congress on the committee and projected on the wall as an exibit at the hearing during the questioning of Undersecretary Allison Hickey and Diana Rubens.
VA ‘Oscar the Grouch’ training angers vets
By Tricia L. Nadolny, Inquirer Staff Writer
Posted: August 28, 2014

The beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs depicted dissatisfied veterans as Oscar the Grouch in a recent internal training guide, and some vets and VA staffers said Tuesday that they feel trashed.

The cranky Sesame Street character who lives in a garbage can was used in reference to veterans who will attend town-hall events Wednesday in Philadelphia.

"There is no time or place to make light of the current crisis that the VA is in," said Joe Davis, a national spokesman for the VFW. "And especially to insult the VA's primary customer."

The 18-page slide show on how to help veterans with their claims, presented to VA employees Friday and obtained by The Inquirer, also says veterans might be demanding and unrealistic and tells VA staffers to apologize for the "perception" of the agency.

The spokeswoman from the Philadelphia VA benefits office - which will host the town halls Wednesday at noon and 6:30 p.m. - said in a statement that the agency regretted any misunderstanding caused by the slide show.

"The training provided was not intended to equate veterans with this character," spokeswoman Marisa Prugsawan said. "It was intended to remind our employees to conduct themselves as courteously and professionally as possible when dealing with veterans and their concerns."

She said the guide appeared to be an old internal document from which employees at the Philadelphia office pulled information ahead of Friday's training. Prugsawan said she was unsure if the original slide show comparing veterans to Oscar had been created locally or by the national VA office and sent to regional centers.

Whatever its origin, Davis said, the impact is clear. He said the reference "slams the door" on the agency's efforts to repair its relationship with veterans.

Regaining that trust - which has been damaged by the national scandal over substandard service - is the main goal of the town-hall-style meetings being held at every VA hospital and benefits office around the country at the direction of Robert McDonald, the new VA secretary.

In Philadelphia, the VA benefits office in Germantown and the VA hospital in University City have been embroiled in the controversy. Both are under investigation by the VA Office of Inspector General over allegations that staff deliberately masked delays on claims or appointments.

In addition to being an open forum for veterans and their family members, Wednesday's events will include a clinic for claimants to seek help on their cases.

The slide show, "What to Say to Oscar the Grouch - Dealing with Veterans During Town Hall Claims Clinics," was shown to employees who will staff those events.

Most slides touch on routine instructions, including dressing professionally, being polite, showing empathy, and maintaining eye contact.

But the "grouch" theme is maintained throughout.

About a dozen slides include pictures of the misanthropic Muppet in the can he calls home. In one, a sign reading "CRANKY" hangs from the rim. In another, Oscar's face is flanked by the words "100% GROUCHY, DEAL WITH IT."

The presentation includes tips on how to tell if a claimant is nearing an "outburst," including being accusatory, agitated, demanding, or unfocused. One section on dealing with angry claimants is titled "Don't Get in the Swamp With the Alligator."

If the stress of dealing with angry claimants is overwhelming, the employees are instructed to take a break. In addition to the slide show, employees received a handout on coping with stress and a four-minute relaxation technique.

Christian DeJohn, 45, a VA employee who attended the training, said the content stunned him. DeJohn, an Army veteran who served in Bosnia, said the message seemed to be that veterans are irritable and potentially dangerous.

"For a long time, there was a stereotype of Vietnam veterans, that they're mentally unstable and violent, bitter, angry, resentful," he said. "I feel like this is perpetuating some of the worst stereotypes of veterans."

Another veteran and VA employee, who attended the training but asked to not be named because, he said, he feared reprisal, said he understood why some people might have been offended, but that he was not. He said that one of the pictures of Oscar was on a slide that told employees to keep their desks clean, and he said some of the content was useful.

"It was telling us how to talk to people," he said. "You're going to have people who are going to be really upset because their claims haven't been processed."

Several other employees who attended the training did not respond to requests for comment. On Tuesday morning, staff at the office received an e-mail, obtained by The Inquirer, advising them to "not respond directly to any media inquiries."

Most of the town-hall meetings ordered by McDonald will be held in the coming weeks. At the few that have already taken place, discussions have at times turned heated, according to news reports. At others, the tone has seemed cooperative and the content mostly informational.

David Gai, the national communications director for AMVETS, a service organization, said the suggestion that some veterans who attend the events will be grouchy is a small example of a wider issue at the VA: Employees don't understand veterans.

"They're being trained in the procedures and not necessarily the nuances of where the veteran is coming from," he said. "That cultural awareness is sometimes a hard gap to fill."

Davis also said the training guide was representative of a cultural problem. He said most employees would not make light of veterans' concerns.

"But there are some people at the VA who forgot who their ultimate boss is," he said. "And that's the veteran."
610-313-8205 @TriciaNadolny




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