As I predicted several months ago, the stampede to the exits is in full swing. Following Petzel’s lead were Joan Moody and Willy Gunn who didn’t even wait for the jumpmaster or a green light. Dr. Brown, Under Secretary of VHA Health (acting) is certainly not the last. The USS Vermin Ave. is alive with the sound of resumé music.
We’ll never know why Moody took the poison pill. At 50, she’s not ready for retirement. This isn’t going to have a smiley face on her resumé but I’m sure she can get some of her former bosses at Vermin Ave. to write glowing endorsements on her ability to advocate for bonus awards and her exquisite grasp of Congressional and legislative affairs. After all, that was her strong suite at VA. I see a glowing future as the Veterans Service Center Manager in Manila, Philippines after a suitable hiatus as a talking head on the VA’s problems with CNN.
What will be interesting to see is how the VA, and it’s possible new Secretary, Ronald McDonald, reorganize the personnel roster. If this merely results in a Punxsutawney Phil approach with no visible shadow, involving the same employees with no new ones chosen from without, then we are doomed to six more decades of winter at 810 Vermin Ave. NW. That is the crux of our dilemma. Given VA’s propensity to ignore public sentiment and common sense, it appears we’ll merely see a new cast of characters with similar sounding names. Expect to see Laura Eskinazi move to Willy Gunn’s slot. Prepare for Hickey’s exodus and fresh meat like Lucy Filipov to replace her.
Musical chair affairs at VA’s Central Office are amusing and oh-so-predictable. Much like the military, having time in rank determines promotion. Intelligence, sadly, is not a prerequisite. When the music stops, there will be no body slams for the last vacant chair. Musical chairs at the VA do not obey the childhood game. There’s always a seat for you. Everyone politely acquiesces to the one most senior to inhabit the one with a corner-office view of Lafayette Square. The reason is simple. For decades, you were virtually guaranteed a seat at this dance. You simply had to wait your turn. If someone stepped on his necktie and just could not be rehabilitated or repurposed to Fort Harrison, Montana as the VSCM, you got an early Christmas present and a parking spot in the basement sooner that you expected. Merely being able to fog the mirror with the air escaping your nose was sufficient to maintain your seniority and guarantee the next step in pay.
With the new paradigm, those days would appear to be over. The operable word here is “appear’. VA has been intransigent in the past and had the chutzpah to fly in the face of adversity- indifferent to public opprobrium. While the recent resignations might imply this is no longer the case, I suspect the majority are still waiting for the SS Carpathia’s lifeboats to arrive and begin transferring the senior managers to their new digs. The majority of them are too obtuse to absorb the concept.
Hickey’s abysmal performance and abject self-degradation up on the Hill the other day was belied by the press release the following day announcing the ‘All Clear’ siren and the raising of the SOSDD flag out on Vermont Ave. That’s the endemic problem we have to contend with. Mea culpas at the HVAC have to be accompanied by the gomers going through the motions to appease public and congressional disfavor. Sackcloth and ashes are the uniform of the day but VA hasn’t gotten that email yet. Moreover, they can’t conceive of that apparel nor will they ever.
VA’s hierarchy has been indifferent to public opinion for over twenty five years. Following the inception of the New World Order of the Court of Veterans Appeals (COVA) in 1989, the VA paid lip service and proceeded merrily on their way just as they had for the prior seventy years. BVA judges continued to write medical opinions in violation of the Colvin decision as if it had never been decided. Ratings were denied with no C&Ps. Due process was a hollow phrase that made a nice matching bookend to Benefit of the Doubt.
We have reached a crossroads-a perfect storm- where fourteen years of continuous war have finally brought our wounded chickens home to roost. No longer can we look the other way and try to ignore the plethora of warriors missing large parts of their anatomy. The profusion of aftermarket arms and legs is becoming a de facto totem of the Afstan conflicts. How we did this after Vietnam was disingenuous-we popped smoke and corralled them at Walter Reed out of sight. Afterwards, we quietly salted them away in their hometowns with fat VA SMC ratings-again-out of sight. Well, fat if you think like the gomers at the Central Office. Compared to their wages, we now know that it was pretty skinny largesse-and still is.
The ‘knickknack, paddywhack, give the Vet a bone’/ this paraplegic went rolling home’ metric isn’t going to fly anymore. No amount of wool-pulling is going to hide the problems at VA. Were the egregious actions of VA’s hierarchy truly just a recent, maladroit error or minor misfeasance by a few, the media and Congress might have been more forgiving. That they rise far above that to endemic, long-term malfeasance by all involved (collusion) cannot be swept under the rug. So, too, can Congress’ turning a blind eye again and again to these shortcomings of the VA no longer be ignored.
The Piper awaits-nay-demands his pay and will not accept payment for hamburgers today come Thursday next. Americans demand our Vets get a fair shake now. Unfortunately. VA cannot produce the golden egg as promised all these years. Asking for another ‘one time’ infusion of twenty or thirty billion dollars on the heels of the same, similar requests in years past seems to be falling on deaf ears up on the Hill. It’s not that the request is ill-timed or untoward. It’s because the request is as tired and predictable as thunder following lightning. Were the VA to retrieve all those illegitimate bonuses for the last decade or two, they would have the funds needed. Had they been paying wages commensurate with job requirements, they would have the funds. Had they not engaged in an orgy of Human Resources cheese and wine tastings with General Patton look alikes and ice sculptures, they wouldn’t be so funds-challenged.
Could have, would have and should have seem to populate the problem list at VA today. Seeing that Congress is loathe to apply the salve of ‘mo’ money, honey’ again, it’s no wonder the resumé template on VA’s antiquated Central Office Adobe 2 programs is running so slowly. Everyone is packing his/her parachutes and checking that of his/her fellow employees’ against the inevitable upcoming massacre. While I admire Sen. Bernie Sanders’ recent epiphany that Vets are getting the sharp, brown end of the punji stick, I have to disagree with how we can fix it. As long as we continue to shoot the messengers and reward the bank robbers, there can be no change. No amount of money can fix stupid and greedy.
Merely promoting from within without purging the pollution of longevity serves no logical purpose. Unfortunately, being a governmental organization does not permit a wholesale Saturday night massacre and infusion of new personnel. Nothing can change due to the built-in resistance to change. Removing bonuses won’t drive out intelligent, competent dedicated employees. Those are oxymora. There simply are none to be found at the VA.