The Memphis Veteran Administration (VA) Medical Center approved over $1 million in bonuses months before closing a therapeutic aquatic pool citing a lack of funds.
The Memphis VA Medical Center handed out $1,005,644 in bonuses for its approximately 2,000 employees in fiscal year 2010, according to data provided to The Daily Caller by Sandra Glover, the communications officer for Veteran Integrated Services Network (VISN) 9, which includes the Memphis VA Medical Center. Glover told TheDC that cost factored into the decision to close the therapeutic aquatic pool in July 2011.
In a statement prepared for TheDC, Glover said that bonuses and capital improvement projects come from separate pools of money, and that the VA outsources aquatic care to veterans at VA expense.
“The Memphis VA Medical Center is committed to honoring veterans with safe, high quality, accessible care earned through their service to the country,” the statement reads. “By law, funds for specific purposes cannot be used for anything other than what they’ve been appropriated for. It is a management decision to consider the cost benefit of maintaining programs and services within the organization.”
“No veteran has been denied services as a result of the closure of the therapeutic pool closure,” the statement continued. “Any patient that requires aqua therapy as a result of their plan of care will be referred to an accredited aqua therapy program in the private sector at VA expense.”
Two whistleblowers told TheDC the statement is disingenuous because the VA routinely denies veterans’ request for aqua therapy care, claiming the therapy isn’t covered by their plans. One whistleblower, who is also a veteran, said they know this first hand because their coverage was denied for aqua therapy and they are currently paying out of pocket.
The whistleblowers asked to remain anonymous because they are employed by the VA and fear retribution.
Glover said nine veterans have been approved for outsourced aqua therapy since the pool’s closure.
“Where it is clinically indicated, no veteran would be denied aqua therapy,” Glover replied to the charge that veterans were denied this therapy.
Robert Jackson, a Vietnam War veteran who said he has used the aqua therapy pool on and off since 2005, had a different experience: He said that not only was his request for a voucher to use a private pool denied, but he was told that the VA wasn’t giving any vouchers.
He told TheDC that he knows of at least six other veterans who were also denied vouchers to use a private therapy pool.
Randy Wade — the former district director in the office of Tennessee Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen, whose district includes the Memphis VA Medical Center — told TheDC that on many occasions when the pool was open, more than nine veterans would be in the aqua therapy pool at one time.
“For veterans to come back and not be able to use that pool is a disgrace,” said Wade.
Open The Books.com founder Adam Andrzejewski said the Memphis example is part of a larger VA problem — it places its priorities in the wrong place. The website has put all government employees’ salaries and bonuses online, and has been cited in a number of VA-scandal related stories.
“The evidence at OpenTheBooks.com shows that the VA bureaucracy was serving the bureaucracy and not veterans,” Andrzejewski said. “With over $1 billion in salaries since 2007, executives need to explain why all veterans were not receiving world class health care.”
The Memphis VA Medical Center is no stranger to controversy. In September and October 2013, that facility was the subject of two VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports. The report released in September 2013 concluded that three patients died in that facility due to malfeasance and delays in care.
A second VA OIG report released in October 2013 concluded that laboratory tests at that facility weren’t processed in a timely manner, and employees weren’t properly trained in vital laboratory equipment and processes.
The same facility was subject to an inspection in September 2011 by the Occupation Safety and Health Administration, which determined that there was a widespread problem with asbestos; while another OSHA inspection also begun in September 2011 found widespread mold and mildew at the facility.
More recently, a whistleblower stepped forward and told local media that a contractor found that eight of 13 dialysis machines weren’t being properly cleaned.
“She [the technician tasked with cleaning the machines] told him she was putting in 20 cc’s [cubic centimeters] of the cleaning solution, and the technician informed her she should have been using 20 ounces,” the whistleblower told the local news station WREG.
On May 27, 2014, a group of about 100 local veterans held a town hall meeting with Democratic Tennessee State Reps. G.A. Hardaway and Karen Camper to complain to the Memphis politicians about long waits for care, poor medical care, and poor service.
According to one news report on the town hall meeting, when Wade, himself a Vietnam veteran, asked who was dissatisfied with service at the facility, nearly all the veterans stood — and those in wheelchairs raised their hands.
Phone calls to the offices of Hardaway and Camper were not returned.
This latest revelation comes as the list of VA facilities being investigated for secret waiting lists and other malfeasance continues to grow. VA Secretary General Eric Shinseki announced his resignation last week.