Donald Trump has set up a shadow government, which is nowhere more obvious than at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA). The United States has always made a promise to its military. If people go to fight for America, the government takes care of them when they return. Now, we discover that the president set up three of his Mar-a-Lago club friends with positions in the VA. Their power goes disturbingly deep into the organization.
The trio had influence over the implementation of the VA’s new ten-billion-dollar electronic health records system for literally millions of veterans. They are a West Palm Beach doctor, Bruce Moskowitz; attorney Marc Sherman; and chairman of Marvel (comic book) Entertainment, Ike Perlmutter. Yet, they were ill-equipped in that they had little if any expertise regarding the massive computer implementation.
Jared Kushner and these three men insisted on a specific $10 billion technology upgrade. That could screw up the VA’s 7 million patients, because healthcare computer systems are complex. They involve numerous departments and individuals. No doubt, an implementation with a powerful shadow government pulling in the direction of its own interests would result in disaster.
The shadow group influenced personnel decisions and the VA’s policy, too. The president had given them deferred power.
The VA contacted over 40 experts, including medical center executives for the medical computer system overhaul. It seems that Trump’s buddies considered themselves among that group, tucked in between medical experts from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Washington Medical Center, and Intermountain Healthcare. Yet, none of the trio had any experience in the military, government, complex health information technology, or federal contracting, according to ProPublica.
In an email, Perlmutter wrote after a Mar-a-Lago meeting last April:
‘For the first time in 1½ years we feel everyone is on the same page. Everybody ‘gets it.’’
Acting secretary Wilkie wrote a response that was originally redacted from the first ProPublica Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. After ProPublica challenged the redacted communications, the VA released the message in its entirety:
‘I was honored to visit with you. No matter how long I am here, there is a template in place based on your efforts to move this institution out of the Industrial Age.’
An individual close to the issue said:
‘It’s very clear that Ike is going to war against Wilkie in a similar way to the way he did against Shulkin. It’s gotten that bad.’
Perlmutter considered himself one of the “top principles (sic).” He also appointed himself and Sherman to a vital committee, the “executive committee.” Congressional lawmakers said that the trio’s power was “wildly inappropriate” and “textbook corruption and cronyism.”
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie did everything within his power to remain apart from Trump’s shadow VA leaders. Wilkie’s spokesperson Curt Cashour said:
‘Although his predecessors may have done things differently, Sec. Wilkie has been clear about how he does business. No one from outside the administration dictates VA policies or decisions — that’s up to Sec. Wilkie and President Trump. Period.’
Dr. Moskowitz developed an Apple application that he wanted to insert into the VA. One of the agency’s IT people said:
‘We are utilizing the native iOS mobile app, Emergency Medical Center Tracker, that Dr. Moskowitz developed.”
The existing VA people saw that a collaboration with Apple could work in the veterans’ favor, such as suicide prevention research, analytics, credentialing, among others. However, Moskowitz emailed:
‘These are good areas but not the emergency ones which my group of experts have identified. I sent an email to outline the recommendations.’
Moskowitz wanted to insert a system for medical device registries, for patient recalls, but the VA already had such a system with a 99 percent success rate.
VA official Darin Selnick (and Moskowitz) had a low opinion of the VA doctors. He wrote:
‘The VA staff has limited knowledge and experience, which is why you and the ”academic medical centers “ are so important to help the VA move forward.’
Selnick advanced to the position of special adviser to Wilkie, and he was the liaison between the VA and Moskowitz’s apps. He wrote to Moskowitz in 20117:
‘I like you are the implementer (sic) for VA.’
When Selnick told Moskowitz the VA’s IT people could start on the app, Moskowitz answered:
‘We need our specialist (his son Aaron Moskowitz).’
Featured image is a screenshot via YouTube.