Make the Reporting of Privacy Violations Super Easy at the VA

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Answer #1: Many

But really it depends on the complexity of the light bulb. For some veterans it can look more like answer #2 and that's no joke.

Answer #2: 25 phone operators, 20 admin staff, 2 social workers, 3 supervisors, 2 program directors, 1 upper level manager, 1 director, 1 VSO, 1 U.S. Congressional Representative, 1 U.S. Senator, Office of Inspector General, media and a patient experience specialist. 

Why should so many people be involved with helping a veteran at the VA on any single issue? Let alone the reporting of violations of privacy laws that have deleterious effects on Veterans?

Like most things at the VA, it takes a lot of willpower to get past the VA's firewall and into the matrix to find someone who can get you the help you need. This is one of the reasons the VA budget is so big because it needs to pay for the inefficient beast of bureaucracy that it has become. Veterans know this intimately. Well, any veteran who truly interfaces with the VA's underbelly. Relatively healthy veterans with the least complicated cases tend to have minimal contact with the VA and are more likely to report a good experience. Many others are too afraid to criticize the VA for fear of a backlash or retaliation. Unlike the public, a veteran cannot simply switch doctors (or regional offices); there is an approval process that includes confronting the doctor who you no longer want to see. And even then the veteran will still see that doctor in the hallways of the facility where he/she gets care. 

Because of the VA's monstrous size, the right hand often does not know what the left hand is doing. In any given day, on any given need or question, a veteran could be told dozen different ways on how to do the same thing.  Additionally, anyone who has gone in circles in the VA's round robin system knows exactly where it ends up. Staff often pass the veteran off to someone else who "may know" until the veteran gives up. For veterans who get so mad and frustrated they are just flung like a hot potato from one VA staff to the next  and will most likely end up before the behavioral board where all the blame of the VA's incompetency is placed on the veteran who simply could not cope and his/her behavior was no longer tolerated. How dare you mistreat VA staff who are doing the best job they can in a system that doesn't allow them to do the best job they could. Welcome to the VA loony bin.

VA bureaucrats know they can also get away with a lot in a system that is so fraught with problems. Take for instance the mass violations of the rule of law at the VA where bureaucrats can violate a veterans privacy and get away with it. The whole system for reporting privacy violations is a sham. It is designed to PREVENT people from reporting privacy violations. I know this is a hard concept for some, since VA provides privacy training and instructions on how to report privacy violations, but most of those reports never go further than the privacy officer. The privacy officers will make an example out of those who faxed to the wrong number etc., but if the privacy violations have to do with a larger system failure or a specific individual who someone wants to protect, then those rules do not apply. The problem is that when laws and rules only apply to "some" people, well then, we have ourselves what is referred to as "soft tyranny". And when a bureaucrat gets a little taste of power, well then, a lot of veterans are screwed along with the people who truly want to help veterans. 

Laws & regulations are not any good if they are not enforced (please sign our other petition on this that demands that our government enforce the law on all bureaucrats). 

Reporting privacy violations should not be a difficult nor dangerous process. No one should jeopardize there job for doing the right thing. No veteran should be harassed for wanting their privacy and for restricting those from seeing their private information.  

1) The prevalence of privacy violations at the VA has become an epidemic system wide; and

 2) Even though the VA is one of the top Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) privacy offenders, the Office of Civil Rights, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), that enforces HIPAA, has largely ignored the VA’s problem; and

 3) The process of reporting privacy violations is a very long, complicated and confusing process for many Veterans, often resulting in more negative consequences than providing the protection and relief the Veteran seeks; and

 4) The Veteran must report privacy violations to the same Regional Office suspected of the privacy violation, which is a conflict of interest; and

 5) It is an extremely poor plan and accountability practice to have any individual and/or group of people, police itself; and

 6) The current regional office Privacy Officer position is an ineffective because it is a peripheral duty assigned to a person who has a primary job description that makes them co-workers, subordinates and/or supervisors to the people who must report privacy violations to; and

 7) VA employees are more likely to report privacy violations if someone was hired specifically to be the Privacy Officer with its own job description, duties and responsibilities, as well as, supervised under a completely different and separate chain of command from the regional office where they work.

Veterans need your help with supporting legislation and changing applicable regulations that requires the VA to make the reporting of privacy violations easy and efficient to unbiased Privacy Officers, who do not have a conflict of interest.