- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

My husband is a veteran and receives some VA benefits for a service-connected disability. At this time, he is no longer working his regular job due to a disability and receives long-term disability. He is going to court to fight to receive Social Security disability and we just wondered: Can he receive both VA and SS benefits? I saw a letter that was similar, but this is disability and not retirement, so I didn’t know if it was the same. Thanks. — Karen, via the Internet

Dear Karen,

VA disability compensation is not affected by receipt of Social Security benefits. Receipt of Social Security benefits would affect entitlement to an amount of non-service-connected disability pension, which is not the benefit your husband is receiving.

Shaft notes

Congratulations to Dean Degner, an intensive care unit nurse at the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System’s Omaha Medical Center. He is the first VA recipient of the DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses. The award, presented in collaboration with the American Organization of Nurse Executives, is part of the DAISY Foundation’s program to recognize the superhuman efforts nurses perform every day.

“We are proud to be among the hospitals participating in the DAISY Award program. Nurses like Dean are heroes every day,” said Eileen Kingston, Omaha VA nurse executive.

A retired Air Force major with 17 years of military service, Mr. Degner has been a VA nurse since 1999.

The nonprofit DAISY Foundation — DAISY stands for “diseases attacking the immune system” — was established in 2000 in memory of J. Patrick Barnes, who died at age 33 from complications of an autoimmune disease. As of July, more than 4,500 nurses have received the DAISY award nationwide.

Hearing on VA contracting

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee oversight and investigations subcommittee, led by Chairman Harry E. Mitchell, Arizona Democrat, recently conducted a hearing to examine the processes and needs of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) acquisition system and procurement structure. The subcommittee reviewed recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) and VA Inspector General reports that detail unfairness and inefficiency in VA contracting.

“We all know that the acquisition system within the Department of Veterans Affairs has failed to develop a process that is both transparent and fiscally responsible,” said Mr. Mitchell, Arizona Democrat.

Reports indicate that VA does not consistently acquire the best available price at a detriment to the taxpayers and veterans for several reasons. Most notably, most medical centers have negotiated and purchased medical health care services through contracts that individual VA medical centers have negotiated. This erodes the federal government’s leverage of its tremendous buying power.

A 2004 GAO report stated that though VA had implemented policies and procedures that required medical centers to purchase medical products and services through VA’s contract programs, a VA IG report found that the medical centers continued to make many less cost-efficient purchases from local suppliers. The IG estimated that, with improved procurement practices at medical centers, VA could have saved, in 2004, about $1.4 billion over 5 years.

Financial management oversight and lack of reliable financial information have plagued the VA for some time. Another area of great concern to the subcommittee, and a casualty of the fragmented acquisition structure of the VA, is the lack of VA oversight of companies claiming Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Business status (SDVOB). Fraud and abuse in the SDVOB program allowed ineligible firms to improperly receive millions of dollars in set-aside and sole-source SDVOB contracts, potentially denying legitimate service-disabled veterans and their firms the benefits of this program.

Currently, there is little oversight to suppress and deter fraudulent pass-through or rent-a-vet businesses from benefiting from SDVOB status. In case studies that GAO conducted, it found that even when firms were found ineligible to receive a contract, they can still retain it because current regulations do not require that the contracting agency terminate the contract. Currently, neither Small Business Administration, except when responding to a protest, nor contracting officials are currently verifying the eligibility of firms claiming to be SDVOBs.

Mr. Mitchell concluded, “It is no secret that there are major deficiencies within VA’s procurement process, and to blame are a number of things, including a lack of a centralized acquisition structure, self policing policies in place that allow fraud and abuse, and continuous material weaknesses. Although I remain fairly optimistic that reform of this system can be accomplished, legislation to fix these problems may be necessary, along with change in policy and procedures.”

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, DC 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.