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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is raising questions about why U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki has such limited knowledge of reports on investigations by the Office of the Medical Inspector (OMI) into allegations of wrongdoing at VA facilities. According to a January 2011 directive from the Veterans Heath Administration (VHA), the OMI must provide each report for transmission to the VA Secretary including a copy of the final report, fact sheet, strategic communication review summarizing the results of OMI’s investigation and information on any personnel actions recommended or taken. 

“I question how Sec. Shinseki could have limited knowledge of the Office of Medical Inspector reports and investigations into VA failures when the OMI is required to prepare reports on each investigation for the VA Secretary,” Sen. Moran said. “How can so many different offices within the VA be made aware of reports without the senior-most leader also having knowledge?”

When questioned in the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee last Thursday about his knowledge of past OMI reports on investigations of VA facilities – including the Jackson VA Medical Center, the Fort Collins Community Based Outpatient Clinic and the Cheyenne VA Medical Center – Sec. Shinseki either denied being aware or acknowledged only recently learning of the reports based on news stories. In addition, Sec. Shinseki stated that he is waiting on the findings of new investigations by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) before he will take action and would not commit to whether administrative action means removal of personnel. It is unclear what criteria the VA uses to task either the OMI or the OIG with conducting investigations into VA wrongdoing.

“If the past is an indicator, I’m not confident these new reports will lead to any action. It’s what the VA does with the findings that matters,” Sen. Moran continued. “

In addition to the VA Secretary, the VHA directive – which does not expired until Jan. 31, 2016 – requires that the OMI distribute all final reports to at least nine other VA offices, including: Under Secretary for Health; Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health; Deputy Under Secretary of Health for Operations and Management; Office of Quality and Safety; Office of Performance Management; Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Policy and Services; Freedom of Information Act Officer (FOIA); VA Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs; Office of Healthcare Inspections, VA Office of the Inspector General; and any other offices or facilities responsible for policy related to the report or for carrying out any part of the action plan. Additionally, OMI is directed to provide a copy of each final report to the Chairs of the Senate and House Committees on Veterans’ Affairs.

According to OMI, their Blue Cover Reports contain conclusions and recommendations for improvement, based on findings from a case investigation or national assessment. The OMI’s recommendations may be for an individual facility, a Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) or all of VHA. The Under Secretary for Health approves all OMI final reports, and in response to a final report, VA facilities, VISNs and VHA program offices – as appropriate – prepare action plans to address report recommendations. 

Unlike reports from the OIG, OMI reports are not made public and have not been previously released to Members of Congress, making it is impossible to know whether the VA has taken action to implement the OMI’s recommendations for improvement in each case. As mentioned in the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing last Thursday, Sen. Moran plans to introduce legislation this week to make certain the findings of the OMI are released to the public and Congress so the full scope of the VA’s dysfunction cannot be disguised.

Sen. Moran has been a member of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees for 18 years, chaired the Health Subcommittee in the House for two years, and has worked with nine VA Secretaries. The hearing followed Sen. Moran’s call for Secretary Shinseki to resign amidst ongoing systemic dysfunction within the VA.

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