As with all catastrophes, certain panaceas are regularly trotted out as the repair order. With the vA this isn’t so. They are, for the most part, hide-bound and stuck in the past. Witness their insane desire lo these last two decades to adhere to a paper file system. All the better to shred the C-files with, my pretty. Seriously. Can you think of one prominent reason to defend a paper file system?
We have had the dubious pleasure on our watch to witness a gradual meltdown in a system that all who are party to admit is dysfunctional. Nevertheless the vA Honchos at the top, in impeccable denial mode, continue to tout new reforms and innovations that will drastically change it. This isn’t a Thomas the Train moment of I think I can, I think I can. Daddy used to refer to this as talking through the top of your hat-as in holding your hat over your mouth and face so as to muffle the timbre and tone of the voice as well as to obscure the content of the statement.
We were greeted in the news last week of a meltdown of sorts finally boiling over amongst the employees of the Columbia, S.C. vARO. It seems they are disgruntled with the strictures being foisted upon them by management and an insane culture of perverse justice being served up for America’s Defenders (us).
What then to behold in my email this morning than yet another peasant uprising-this time at the Head Office down at Vermont Ave. Bill Preston, under the heading of Veterans w/HCV, sent me an advance copy of the letter sent out to all the usual suspects and witnesses to this travesty we call the vA judicial nightmare. It seems only fitting that the AFGE, a union some say is inconsequential and past its prime, should be the one to raise a hue and cry at the practices we all know are perpetrated against us. Veterans will note they (AFGE) were instrumental in the protest down in Columbia last weekend. That Mr. Preston would see fit to put this in our inbox too is an honor.
One of our sister sites ( Yuku’s VBN), when apprised of the Columbia vARO development, had an interesting observation. A moderator (who claims to be a former DRO) opined that this was much ado about nothing and that the AFGE is a toothless, inconsequential tiger at this point:
To be technically accurate we really don’t know how many rating personnel participated. Folks here tend to erroneously refer to all Regional Office employees as “raters” and that isn’t accurate.
I read this article a couple of days ago and the first thing that struck me was that this event was organized by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) labor union. I can’t say for sure but I would bet that the union is trying to fan veteran indignation in an effort to secure some labor union goal. I was a member of the AFGE for several years and don’t remember it ever concerning itself with the welfare of the veteran population. The union was primarily concerned with obtaining employee benefits and promoting the political candidates it endorsed.
Most Regional Office employees aren’t even members of the AFGE and only a few of those that are tend to pay any attention to union activities. At my Regional Office a typical union meeting would have about 10-12 attendees out of 300 Regional Office employees. http://vets.yuku.com/topic/79244/VA-Raters-up-in-Arms#.T-sx57UQvIM
That insightful comment was followed by another paternalistic ” Fortunately for you, I have the complete scoop.” Keep in mind that VBN’s stated goal is helping Vets.
It would be difficult to work 30 years at VA spending time in various offices, including Central Office in Washington, and not know a lot of people all over the Country. I count among my friends VA folks from all walks from Central Office management and Regional Office Directors at the top to file clerks at the bottom, and everything in between. More than a few of the young rookies that I trained down through the years have gone on to high positions at VA and it is with great pride that I can say that more than a few viewed me as their mentor during their formative years at VA. These contacts often allow me to get the backstory behind what is put out for public consumption.
Apparently, former employees, including the one above, discount this as an aberration and nothing more than a union spat for more wages/benefits. This head-in-the-sand defect is a hallmark of vA hierarchy. Sadly, it appears it will be perpetuated by their retired minions as well. That philosophy seems embedded in many of the moderators there. It mirrors how we got into this situation closely. What does seem equally obvious is that some (current vA employees) are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. I attach this which was posted today on an older, September 28th, 2011 blog. I was afraid it would never see the light of day if left there.
Veterans w/HCV says:
AFGE Local 17
Fighting for Justice
here at VA Central Office
June 26, 2012
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Mr. Secretary:
The Chairman’s front office staff at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (the Board) is responsible for unnecessarily delaying appeals filed by Veterans and their families. Employees at the Board, many of whom are Veterans, are troubled by these delays and have urged me to notify your office of this matter in the hope that you can rectify this ongoing problem. I am therefore bringing this matter to your attention. This letter is also being faxed to U.S. Senators Murray and Burr, and to Representatives Miller and Filner, the chairs and ranking members, respectively, of the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees.
The Board’s mission is to adjudicate Veterans’ claims for disability benefits expeditiously. Attorneys are under immense pressure to review cases and write decisions as quickly as possible. In an effort ostensibly to achieve its goals, the Board recently issued a new policy that cases must not be held by judges or attorneys for more than 30 days, and that failure to adhere may result in disciplinary action, negative performance appraisal, or removal. AFGE Local 17 fully supports resolving appeals in a timely manner and is sensitive to the fact that Veterans anxiously await decisions that may significantly impact their lives. Because of this, we find it incumbent upon us to bring to your attention the fact that members of the Chairman’s front office not only violate this 30-day policy but are the worst offenders, sometimes even holding cases for over a year. Many cases have tentative decisions already prepared and are merely waiting to be signed by a front office staff member in their capacity as a Veterans Law Judge (VLJ) or Acting VLJ. However, instead of being timely signed and dispatched, these cases sit on shelves collecting dust while Veterans wait for resolution.
I have attached a redacted list dated May 10, 2012, which provides a snapshot illustrating some of these unconscionable delays. As the list reflects, Principal Deputy Vice Chairman Laura Eskenazi held five cases well in excess of 100 days (227 days, 198 days, 177 days, 156 days, and 120 days). Also, Chief Counsel for Operations Donnie Hachey is one of the worst offenders, holding one case for over a year, for 415 days, and other cases for 357 days, 349 days, 233 days, 224 days, etc. Other offenders in the Chairman’s front office include Counsel Marti Hyland (399 days, 399 days, 210 days, 210 days, etc.) and Executive Assistant Bethany Buck (360 days, 343 days, 302 days, 237 days, etc.). Notably, none of these individuals is a Veteran. In addition, the Chairman’s relatively small staff has had more cases beyond the 30-day deadline than the over 350 attorneys and judges on the four decision teams combined. The number and extent of these delays by the Chairman’s office is disrespectful to the men and women who have honorably served our country.
What is more troubling, we’ve learned, is that when the Chairman’s front office became aware that our union local might have obtained data implicating its own personnel, the Chairman’s staff was directed to remove old cases from their dockets by assigning them to other attorneys and judges. The Chairman’s front office, it appears from what we have gathered, attempted to hide the information in order to escape further scrutiny and responsibility, rather than adjudicating these old cases so they could be dispatched immediately.
Employees at the Board demand to know why members of the Chairman’s front office are allowed to disrespect our nation’s Veterans by needlessly delaying appeals. It is apparent that the Chairman’s front office staff is unfortunately incapable of adhering to the Board’s mission statement of resolving appeals in a timely matter. The consequence is that benefits for disabled Veterans are being needlessly delayed. On behalf of Veterans, employees request that you intervene in this matter to ensure that these old cases are adjudicated as soon as possible and that members of the Chairman’s office are not allowed to play by a different set of rules.
AFGE Local 17
It seems all is not well at 810 Vermont Ave. NW. in spite of what the VBN DRO/moderator believes. It would be interesting to hear his explanation for this latest outbreak. By virtue of sheer numbers alone, it’s quite possible that Eskinazi, Hatchey, Hyland and Buck may be some of those he mentored. Perhaps Preston is just another one of those inflated union types fomenting a rebellion for higher wages but I severely doubt it. Where there’s continual smoke, there’s a fire afoot. When smoke starts emanating from vAROs (and now the Central Office), its safe to assume their collective house is afire. How soon will we see smoke curling up from Oakland and Seattle?
I know some of you will say this is the last vestige of a conspiracy that is collapsing under its own weight. Rubbish. It’s simply the sound of daylight crashing into dark corners vA would prefer to keep cloistered and far from the public domain. This is also the fallout from the information age that vA has so desperately tried to hold at arm’s length for decades. I see no union employees clambering for more and better wages and working conditions. What I do see are vA employees (who just happen to be union-affiliated) protesting the nefarious schemes we’ve known for decades to exist. Don’t lose sight of the significance. We’re talking about a sea change of employee sentiment. This is unheard of in our lifetime. In the past it would be grounds for instant dismissal. Their timing is eerily impeccable.
vA has been on a bender for nigh on a century with no appreciable change for the better. As their methodology falls into disrepair, they continue to have their high tea and crumpets every afternoon. Senator Alan Cranston phrased it very succinctly in floor debates on the VJRA in 1988-vA has been in “splendid isolation” for far too long. I submit that they have fallen back into the same predicament yet again if they ever indeed truly reformed after the VJRA’s passage.
vA is at a nadir in their existence with no way to dig themselves out. Everything they touch turns into something smelly and it isn’t gold. The last straw is now a peasant revolt among those formerly entrusted to screw us. When you hear the employees voice displeasure with how we are being treated, you know one thing is certain- even they have no more stomach to do the bidding of their masters.
My attorney mentioned a month or more ago that the BvA has been under the gun to crank out a decision per day per judge for some time now. Apparently, some of these cases need more nuanced denials that require additional ammo. I suspect those are the problem cases Mr. Preston mentions. What better way than to pidgeonhole them somewhere and shop the perfect VHA “expert” willing to say whatever 30 pieces of silver will buy.
OGC IS ON THE WAY