10 May 2017

Lack of Oversight Promotes VA Claims Mismanagement at Highest Level

"Lack of Oversight"

 For more than four years, James Sampsel got away with it. Mr. Sampsel was (and still is?) working from his home as manager of the VBA Agent Orange Desk. That's a key position in the Compensation and Pension Service with duties spelled out in VA Adjudication Manual M21-1MR. Every non-Vietnam veteran claiming Agent Orange exposure faces Mr. Sampsel's scrutiny. 

What did Mr. Sampsel get away with?
• Improperly blocked every single C-123 veteran's Agent Orange disability claim that crossed his desk. That denied vital medical care and disability benefits. Unless otherwise eligible, vets with cancers and other deadly ailments were locked out of VA hospitals. 

• He created a brief to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that falsely assured legislators C-123 claims were decided on a case-by-case basis, while he simultaneously directed VA rating officials to deny all those claims. This was to block legislative relief for C-123 veterans.
• His friendship with Dr. Alvin Young included supervision of a unique no-bid sole-source unsolicited contract for $600,000, with Dr. Young producing a series of monographs on Agent Orange issues of Mr. Sampsel's choosing. The largest single subject of the monographs was Dr.Young's enthusiastic support for Mr. Sampsel's opposition to C-123 exposure claims. The entire series was designed to buttress VA policies against Agent Orange claims.
• Mr. Sampsel was present at the June 14, 2014 hearing of the Institute of Medicine C-123 Committee at which Dr. Young denied he was representing VA in opposing C-123 exposure claims. In fact, Dr. Young was under his Sept 2012-Sept 2014 Agent Orange consulting contract, receiving $25,000 that month. Mr. Sampsel did nothing to correct Dr. Young's misleading statement to the IOM. Critical because Dr.Young tried to come off as a disinterested expert coming forward to advise the committee. In fact, Dr. Young was a paid VA agent under Mr. Sampsel.
• In one email, Mr. Sampsel even sarcastically shared patient information with an unauthorized colleague. He also recommended VA not respond to a different patient confidentially complaint about him as it would only "encourage" the vet. VA does not want to encourage veterans?
• He misled the Secretary into signing a deceptive and error-laden letter and C-123 Fact Sheet" for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

How did he do that?
• Mr. Sampsel insisted VA had "an overwhelming preponderance of evidence" against C-123 claims but there was no such preponderance. Mr. Sampsel told raters there was no basis for honoring C-123 exposure claims, and even provided boilerplate claim denial language to regional offices. 
• Like others in VA, Mr. Sampsel wrongly promised every C-123 disability claim was addressed on "a case-by-case" basis. Amazingly, this is even while writing memos to Mr. Murphy questioning whether they should adopt a case-by-case basis. He directed VA's blanket denial policy while also denying hs policy existed. Some regional offices like Manchester NH took Mr. Sampsel's denials to be regulatory prohibitions of C-123  awards.
• Thus, every C-123 claim was denied from the earliest known in 2007 until June 2015. Tellingly, once free of Mr. Sampsel's twisted scrutiny, every denied C-123 claim appealed to the Board of Veterans Appeals was honored because the BVA more closely obeyed the law and followed VA regulations. Eventually, years after the Sampsel denials, C-123 vets go a fair deal at VBA...if they'd survived the interim delay.
• He also drafted Secretary Shinseki's error-laden June 2013 response to Senator Burr and the "C-123 Fact Sheet," thus forestalling legislative intervention by veterans' elected representatives
• Despite VAM21-1MR procedures, Mr. Sampsel refused to act on JSRRC confirmation of C-123 exposures. He received input as early as March 2013 yet for years continued to insist on his "overwhelming preponderance of evidence" against C-123 vets. It should be noted that the phrase "overwhelming preponderance" admits virtually no doubt – "there is no reason to believe otherwise"...even with contrary input from CDC, NIH, JSRRC, and dozens of other experts, Mr. Sampsel insisted to vets, legislators and VA itself there was no doubt. He was correct, but only in there was no doubt that all C-123 claims would be automatically denied by Mr. Sampsel's agency.

Who let him get away with it? 
• Mr. Thomas Murphy, at the time Director, Compensation, and Pension Service and now, Acting Under Secretary for Benefits. Mr. Sampsel had a key position under Murphy's organization.

How do we know Mr. Murphy failed to provide effective oversight?
Because Mr. Murphy was personally briefed on these problems by Major Wes Carter. Further, Mr. Murphy was copied on veterans' correspondence to various VA leaders revealing specific failures of the Agent Orange Desk, and was copied by Mr. Sampsel on his internal correspondence. Veterans met with Mr. Murphy at his 1800 office on February 28, 2013 to discuss reasons for VBA blocking C-123 exposure claims. 
• One specific point covered was language in a claim denial that dismissed dioxin's harmful effects. Another was the Agent Orange Desk rejection of all opinions from the CDC/ATSDRNIH and dozens of independent experts.
• Mr. Murphy signed the claim denial in question, and also signed VA responses to Dr. Jeanne Stellman, the Corresponding Scientist of the Concerned Physicians and Scientists. That group detailed scientific errors in the Agent Orange Desk rejection of C-123 claims
• Dr. Young's $600,000 Agent Orange consulting contract produced little if anything of value to VA, and was also pointedly anti-veteran as it obstructed C-123 claims.

What was the impact of Mr. Murphy's Lack of Oversight? 
• Vets were denied VA medical care. Vets were denied compensation for disabilities. Families were denied Champ-VA medical care and other benefits such as educational assistance for children. Veterans without VA certification were denied state benefits. Veterans were denied burial benefits. Overall, a discrediting of the VA benefits system and what one newspaper's editors called "the VA's latest success in embarrassing itself."

What has been done about Mr. Murphy's Lack of Oversight?
• Nothing. Nothing has been done to make right the harm done nor improve VA policies and procedures.

Why still be concerned about this injustice?
• Because vets were denied benefits until June 2015. While presently there is no recovery for medical care and other expenses vets faced without VA benefits, VA needs to honor old claims for retroactive disability compensation just as they do with every other claim situation because compensation is based on the date of application, not when Mr. Sampsel and company get around to doing the right thing.
• Because nothing has been done to address their failures, and the system is free to do this again to other veterans.

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