Veteran’s Administration Overhaul
Former US Army General and Joint Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki is no stranger to headlines and reporters asking difficult questions. When he took over the role of Director of Veteran’s Affairs (VA), a post that very rarely sees the spotlight, he must have thought those stressful days were behind him. Now, officially retired after resigning due to intense pressure placed by political, civilian, and veteran organizations, he has time to reflect on what happened that caused him to be thrust into the limelight again.
The rest of us, veterans and civilians alike, anxiously look toward President Obama’s replacement, Bob McDonald, for answers. The first order of business will have to be reducing wait time for appointments and follow up care. At times, scheduling appointments can take weeks, if not months, delaying necessary treatment and creating a massive, and potentially fatal backlog. According to providers at the VA clinics in the Phoenix area, the delay in care has caused over 40 deaths in their area alone. (citation)
The influx of veterans needing care should come as no surprise as the veteran population ballooned in size after fighting two wars for over a decade. Additionally, fighting a non linear war and the advances of medical knowledge have providers trying to find answers to medical conditions previously unseen, undiagnosed, or left untreated. The concussive nature of IED’s and the 2009 decision to allow claims for exposure to Agent Orange and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Reuters, U.S. Veterans agency struggles with claims problems, Lawder) have caused a huge need, one that the VA is not able to meet. These issues, particularly PTSD, cause complications as the amount of care required is open ended.
In order to find a solution, the VA has asked Congress for 17.6 Billion dollars of funding to afford care for outside of the network. This funding, which is currently leaving many lawmakers stunned, would only be a temporary fix. The root problem is deeper than funding, the problem lies in the culture.
Matt Babika, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, talks about his experience in a New Jersey VA clinic “As my name was called to report to the desk, a phone call came in and two patient desk clerks literally did rocks paper scissors over who would take the call from (their words) ‘that old man who is crying on the phone.’ ”He says that he has visited several other facilities and has had no further issues, citing professionalism and timeliness, but that instance has stuck with him.
It is this type of experience that has lead to questions about the leadership throughout the agency. Reports have surfaced about administrators “hiding” patients who have been sitting on waiting lists for unacceptable lengths of time. Poor performance, however, is conspicuously absent in yearly performance evaluations for senior managers. Evaluations across the board were resoundingly positive throughout, suggesting that either leaders are unaware of systemic problems within their organization, or are unwilling to confront employees about their shortcomings. In fact, during a congressional inquiry, a top VA official said that 78% of senior managers performed so well that they received financial compensation, or a bonus, for their performance during 2013. More alarmingly, all 470 top VA senior officials received a review of “fully successful” or better for 2013. (citation)
Rob Nabors, President Obama’s deputy chief of staff stated in his report that, “It is clear that there are significant and chronic systemic failures that must be addressed by the leadership at VA.”
The hope is that McDonald will bring his 30 plus years of business management, a resume that includes a degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point and CEO of Proctor & Gamble, and usher in a new legacy of accountability and dedication to caring for our nation’s fighting men and women. McDonald certainly has his hands full trying to regain the trust of veterans nationwide.
When asked about his opinion of the VA, veteran NCO Jay Coniglio stated, “I currently have great health insurance through my work so I never use the VA. I think I would still use the VA if I needed it but I would be skeptical.” Until then, veterans are forced to do something they are all too accustomed to doing, wait.
For more information, please visit: Article on VA Bill at Military.com