Several Veterans’ advocates whose names slip my mind, have theorized that head Chairman Laura ‘Rocket Docket’ Eskinazi, who also just happens to be the Vice-Chairman of the Board of Veterans Appeals as well, must be pulling down both salaries. There doesn’t seem to be any stampede to the HR corner of 810 Varmint Ave. NW to find a suitable candidate. Since the VA has such an unblemished, stellar reputation among Govt. agencies, I feel loathe to cast the first stone.
Big Mac is too busy
firing, er, demoting, er, investigating possible whistleblowers, er, VISN directors for boorish, insensitive behaviour that calls for a bonus, er, reprimand. That’s 177,000 for the record. Er, 17,700. Er, three? That’s beside the point. He’s going through his ‘early Shinseki phase’ where everyone just tells him what he wants to hear.
Big Mac: So did we fire whatzisbutt in Phoen-er Philadelphia?
Aide de Camp: Roger that, sir,
BM: What about that gomer witch doctor up in Tomah who got ‘hold of the keys to the pharmacy?
ADC: Yep. You sure sent him packing, sir.
BM: I don’t get it. I keep firing all these guys and the Drive by Press isn’t reporting it. Are we holding press conferences and getting this out to the public?
ADC: Roger that, sir. They took out a two page spread in the Pocono Tribune for a week. The Goldsboro, North Carolina News Argus did a huge front page write up for us. Gipe’s brother in law is the editor in chief. We’re unable to ascertain where this constant drumroll of discontent is emanating from. We’ve got the OIG on it trying to stem the lea-, er, tide as it were.
BM: Well, you be sure and let me know if any more whistleblowers come forward , son. They’re our greatest asset in this. Seems there would be more than the six we’ve seen so far. If every employee blew the whistle when they saw something amiss, we’d be out of a job in a year or two because it was working.
ADC: Truer words were never spoken, sir.
Here’s some confusing statistics that, when compared, make for some shaky future statistics.
The OVLJ consists of two Deputy Vice Chairmen (DVC) (SES/VLJ), 10 Chief VLJs, up to 78 VLJs, and approximately 410 attorneys who prepare tentative written decisions for review and signature by a VLJ.
Count the judges:
I see 48. They are authorized 78. They are up to their assholes in VA appeals, are twenty VLJs short of a load and lacking a Vice Chairman to boot. 410 of the senior staff attorneys are drafted for 90-day stints as “Acting” VLJs and they are publishing the statistics on success. This is like the Supervisor of the Titanic’s bilge pump reporting to the Captain that due to the superior characteristics and volume capabilities of the bilge pump, the ship won’t go down for several more days- a tremendous improvement from the prior forecast of one to two hours.
BVA PRIDE IN ACHIEVEMENT
- In FY 2014, the Board proudly served over 55,000 Veterans and beneficiaries by issuing 55,532 decisions
- [h]olding 10,879 hearings
- The Board’s cycle time, which measures the average time from the date an appeal is physically received at the Board until a decision is dispatched (excluding the time the case is with a Veterans Service Organization (VSO) representative for review and preparation of written argument) was 202 days in FY 2014.
- The Board’s total time for FY 2014 was 357 days, which includes the time the case is with a VSO representative for review and preparation of written argument
- The Board received 47,048 appeals in FY 2014.
- The Board anticipates receiving 74,072 appeals in FY 2015,
- the Board’s call center in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, answered 105,384 inquiries from Veterans or their representatives by phone, email, and written correspondence.
- The Board’s Correspondence Unit issued 2,626 responses to Congressional inquiries
- the Board requested 117 independent medical examination opinions and 1,087 VHA medical opinions to facilitate adjudication of these Appellant’s cases.
- The Board also continued to maintain its presence on eBenefits – a joint venture between VA and the Department of Defense, which provides Veterans the opportunity to check the status of their claims and appeals securely online or from their mobile device.
I love statistics. Once uttered, they dry like concrete and, much like Pandora, are inexorable. Factoid number one is bragging. Perhaps 55,000 or more decisions were made. Most were cut-and-dried stupidity- cured after several RO “lather, rinse, repeat remand cycles.
#2 is interesting but it means VSOs managed to talk Johnny Vet out of a hearing in 4 out every five cases heard.
#3 and #4 are more important. I have told you of my travails at the Board in 1991-1992. A triumvirate of three trolls from DAV, VFW and PVA held my appeal for over six months and finally begged for nothing more than benefit of the doubt. Six months for that cogent legal advice. The good news is nowadays, it only costs the Vet 155 days instead of my 180. That looks impressive until I mention the six months encompassed three national holidays and weekends.
#5 sounds encouraging in light of the patented new Eskinazi Rocket Docket method that produced more decisions than the incoming mail did. #6 puts a fork into the brief joy. If 20,000 more appeals arrive in FY 2015, all the VBMS’ horses and men cannot stem the tide. I don’t care how big a smiley face you print on the shirts, how many bonuses you hand out for service above and beyond the call of duty or Eskinazi Attaboys you hang on your trophy wall. Statistics don’t lie. Success is a chimera.
#7 tells us the BVA doesn’t widely advertise their complaints number. #8 shows that all 535 members of Congress, on average, got 4 .22 calls from constituents regarding the delay of their appeal-hardly something to crow about unless you’re proud it wasn’t higher.
#9 is probably the most appalling of all. It shows the General George Armstrong Custer gene is strong in the VLJ ranks. So utterly sure are the majority of VLJs in the collation and independent review/decision making process at the Union of Soviet Regional Offices across our great nation, that they only request outside corroboration in less than 20% of VA appeals. This just before they mount up to ride into Medicine Tail Coulee.This smacks of a total disregard for the holdings in Shafrath and Colvin.
#10 tells us the BVA is still swallowing 2010 pablum from the VBA. The eBenefits site has been capable of far more than merely keeping a finger on the pulse of your claim to the point of being able to submit evidence via their electronic pieholes in Wisconsin and Georgia. This occurred several years ago. The BVA’s addition to this is just as they describe. What use is a ten-day old newspaper? BVA lists that feat under “Technology”.
Vet: Hey sugar, the eBenefits just posted something that says my appeal has been decided. Yahoo! I wonder how soon they’ll mail out the decision? It doesn’t say if I won or not. The excitement is killing me.
Wife: It came yesterday. I forgot to tell you. You lost.
The BVA touts:
In FY 2014, the Board continued to challenge employees to maintain high levels of quality, and through these efforts, achieved an accuracy rating of 94.7 percent in the decisions issued, up 0.5 percent from FY 2013. The Board’s accuracy rate (i.e., the Board’s deficiency‑free rate) quantifies substantive factual and legal deficiencies in all decisions, whether an allowance, a remand, or a denial. To determine its accuracy rate, the Board uses a weighted formula that was created in collaboration with the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Specifically, 5 percent (1 out of 20) of all original appeals and 10 percent (1 out of 10) of all cases returning from remand by the CAVC are selected at random by the Veterans Appeals Control and Locator System (VACOLS) for an accuracy review by the Board’s Quality Review Staff.
Again, statistics cast in concrete that are immobile are fun to dissect. VA statistics remind me of two things. Rule #1 :VA appeals are correct 94.7% of the time- up .5% from FY 2013. Rule #2: If the CAVC, vacates and remands, sets aside and remands or outrightly reverses BVA decisions 75% of the time (i.e. 25% success rate), refer back to Rule #1. The second thing that comes to mind are Weebles-the inflatable kind for kids. Weebles, like VA statistics, wobble but they don’t fall down.
When we think of random, we think of Lotto. Balls bouncing around in a Plexiglas ball and a well-endowed bikini’ed blonde grabbing the ping pong balls out one by one. VA’s technique is an unidentified employee in a back room with one black ball in a sea of 20 white ones and his hand just accidentally lands on it. That’s inserted into VACOLS and it appears magically as if speared by a unicorn. Ever since the admission in the Gene Groves Extraordinary Writ that there was a back door into VACOLS that could “correct prior incorrect data to keep the record straight” and make it appear as if no tampering occurred, VA’s Presumption of Evidentiary Soundness has been substantially rebutted.
The problem with the accuracy statistic’s 94.7% number is and has been rebutted year in and year out by the almost constant 70%+ set aside/vacate/reversal metric emanating from the CAVC itself. The Supreme Court even knows that. Seems a statistic of that import might have percolated down to the Starbucks at 810 Verboten Ave. NW. by now. VA poohbahs need to break down CAVC remands into VLJspeak: “Tie the Vet’s feet to the stirrups next time so the rope breaks his neck before he comes off the horse.”
Further, with regard to those appeals that must be remanded, the Board continued to closely track the reasons for remand for management and training purposes, and the Board’s Quality Review Office continued to engage in extensive liaison efforts with VBA’s AMC to address and resolve issues pertaining to the proper processing of remands.
Which brings us to an impasse. Is the rest of the report worth the time or the paper it’s printed on or is it a cheap attempt at brainwashing?
A ROCKET DOCKET BY ANY OTHER NAME
Notably, although the Board’s increase in staff at the beginning of FY 2014 represented a 20‑percent increase above staff levels at the beginning of the previous fiscal year, the Board’s productivity in FY 2014 rose 32.5 percent.
WHISTLEBLOWER (EMPLOYEE) ENGAGEMENT
improve bilateral communication at the Board by providing mandatory communication training for all staff on tactful, effective communication; and continue to enhance psychological safety and trust relationships by providing an anonymous forum (i.e., the Board’s Suggestion Boxes) for staff to ask questions of leadership on items of interest.
Those would be the suggestion boxes with the surveillance camera aimed at them and the time/date stamp machine inside.
NO MORE SOCs AND SSOCs WITHOUT DEVELOPMENT
Additionally, during FY 2014, the Board began sending counsel on Travel Board trips to provide VBA adjudicators with a training presentation that was jointly prepared by the Board and VBA. This presentation targets current changes in the law and areas of weakness in the adjudication process that were identified through VBA and Board collaboration and seeks to ensure that full development of an appeal is completed by VBA prior to that appeal reaching the Board.
The BVA constipation is just beginning. If they think they’re going to get 74,000 remands by the end of 2015, I think they better rethink. Here’s what’s stacking up at the 56 Puzzle Palace inbaskets:
See that first one? Add them up. That’s 95,000 claims that haven’t been acted upon. A deck of cards is 52 tall. Dealing them out to poker players doesn’t decrease the number of cards-merely how tall the deck is when you make several piles. When you refuse to count the piles at the ROs that have not gone through the magical “VA 8 certification and purification ceremony”, it gets downright interesting. One thing I’ve noticed about VA. Every year or three, they come out and say they just didn’t see “it” coming. It metamorphoses from claims to medical needs to finicky hospital blueprints in Denver. The only commonality is that no one predicted it. Old statistical charts predicted it in theory but who woulda thunk it woulda come to pass? Apparently not VA.
A four-thousand claim increase (estimate) over 2014. I doubt the ink was dry on this graph before it was obsolete.
Here’s the current reality of one claim in the real world. I’d say it represents Waco or Oakland but Seattle wouldn’t be far off.
Where’s the winner’s circle?
Looks like VR&E is taking a spanking. I sure wish we could get them up to the CAVC on appeal. The silver lining I see is that where once we had a 22% win rate at the BVA, it has now crept up to over 29%. That is truly a metric of note due in no small part to the greater participation of our NOVA attorneys in the process.
Success by Representation
No comment, folks. Yes, that’s blood dripping off my tongue from biting it. I’ll let you be the judge.