An Insider Reveals How Problem-Plagued the VA Really Is

Now that the nation's attention is finally focused on the Department of Veterans Affairs' most recent struggles with administrative corruption and incompetence, a worker with inside knowledge of some of the VA's problems has reached out to Gawker.

Today, we have some anecdotes from a source with intimate knowledge of the department's IT troubles. As the source's stories make clear, they're told not to smear the VA, a giant department full of many well-meaning employees with a herculean task. These anecdotes are told to highlight the problems and the inefficiencies that need immediate attention from the White House and Congress as they look to reform the process of veterans' medical care.

They are also the perspectives of a single person, and we have not independently verified all the assertions made here, so you should understand the caveats that go along with those facts.

If you, too, have stories about dealing with problems at the VA—as a worker, a patient, a dependent, or in any other capacity—share them in the comments below, or with me at adam.weinstein at gawker dot com.

Here were the source's main points:

The VA's information systems varied wildly across the world, causing complications for vets and potentially costing lives.

[In my IT experience] the inefficiencies and unwillingness to act is appalling. Used to do the same for DoD, and knowing that all these Vets were going from (what seemed) a well-organized healthcare system into the VA makes me shudder.

For years, every VA hospital and clinic had their own, in-house IT staff that did their own decisionmaking and design. If a Vet moved from one hospital to another, those records never come with, unless the systems happened to handshake.

Worked on one project a few years ago that helped ensure health records stay with a soldier wherever they go. There can be a mixup if, say, a guy is critically wounded in theatre and sent to Ramstein for treatment. We heard about one soldier whose allergy notifications were not sent, he was treated on an emergency basis, and died from the allergy. But this is the kind of thing talked about in hushed tones in the office and I wouldn't know where to begin looking for documentation.

It's getting easier now. [Fixing this] is one of the major initiatives that [VA Director Eric] Shinseki brought in… Up until he came in there really wasn't a big push to integrate the hospitals.

VA ID cards issued to vets left them open to identity theft. Officials knew this long before acting to fix it, just months ago.

Fun fact: if you have an old VIC [ID] card, and not the new VHIC card, a freeware barcode scanner can yank your SSN from the card. Official decision was to not do anything, as 'new cards were on the way in a few months.'

Here's the VIC card story.

Many vets have given up seeking help, and many VA officials have given up trying.

My attitude is that I'm not a Veteran but I see how poorly they are treated, and it makes me sick. Got a lot of friends who are/have served, and I see a ton of people working really hard on solutions and bashing their heads against a wall of inefficiency, mortared in by resistance to change.

Few years back I met a couple Veterans, one recently out of the service and one not, talking about their incredible problems getting their healthcare they were entitled to.

One older man had given up years ago, frustrated by the lack of response, when one of our new systems would have made it easier to push his claims.

One recent Vet told me how she was effectively discouraged from laying the groundwork for later claims as she was coming back from Iraq— sure, you can go home once you finish processing, but if you had traumatic injuries you'd like to document that'll take a few days—things like that.

A lot of our VA supervisors are Veterans. They're very competent. They're super hard workers... But they bring in a lot of IT workers who don't necessarily have the same work ethic, or have the Veterans at the heart of what they do... not the Veterans who are dealing with TBI or getting on in years and don't have every last I dotted and T crossed. So much separation from the reality on the ground. It's all academic and we don't think about the real impacts on people.

Again, if you have personal dealings with the VA, consider sharing them in the comments below or emailing adam.weinstein at gawker dot com.

[Photo credit: AP]