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The PJ Tatler

by
Bryan Preston

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May 30, 2014 - 10:29 am
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I don’t think most Americans have fully come to terms with just how bad the Veterans Administration scandal is. In fact, it took Mark Knoller’s question in the aftermath of Gen. Shinseki’s resignation to reveal it all to me.

Eric Shinseki is a retired four-star general, and a wounded combat veteran himself. He lost part of his foot as a result of combat in Vietnam. It’s not yet clear whether he did anything to deal with the secret wait lists or the bonuses or not. It is clear that he promised to improve the VA’s wait times for veterans, and that he failed.

But it’s also clear that he is not the beginning or the end of the problem. He came into the VA in 2009, aware that there were problems, and promising to fix them. Problems in the VA go all the way back to before it was even called the VA. It has never been a well-run agency, and it’s fair to ask if it can ever be.

But most of those previous problems were not quite as awful as the current one. The current one may not even be fixable.

Shinseki, a wounded combat vet, just took the fall for what the bureaucrats below him were doing. He leaves the Veterans Administration in full disgrace after a career in which he earned the right to put four silver stars on his shoulder.

Those bureaucrats knew what they were doing. The whole time. They orchestrated the secret waiting lists. They paid out the bonuses. They figured out how to game the system, and they gamed it for all it was worth. Surely some of them knew that each day a sick veteran had to wait was a day on which that veteran might die for lack of care. Yet they kept the whole system going, for years, for their own selfish reasons.

Today, after Shinseki’s departure, they are still sitting at their desks. They are not resigning.

Apparently they do not feel the sting of dishonor. They do not feel the pain that they have caused. They terribly mistreated the very people who fought and sustained injuries defending those bureaucrats’ freedoms. And yet, there they sit, waiting for the weekend.

Their chief concern, today, seems to be “God, I just have to lay low and stick around long enough to collect my pension.”

Because, clearly, that’s all they ever cared about anyway.

Top Rated Comments   
As a former VA physician, I can attest to the complete unfixability of the VA system. Management is primarily concerned with a CYA approach--always covering themselves with the mantra of "compassion" for our Veterans, while at the same time making decisions that interfere with quality medical and psychiatric care. Incompetence is rewarded and instead of fixiing problems, there is always the search for someone to "blame" to get the heat off. I was constantly faced with poor or out of date equipment; pharmaceutical choices that were years behind the private sector; inability to get patient follow up care in a timely manner; inability to refer to competent specialists. It was frustrating and felt like I was constantly pounding my head against a brick wall. I finally had to leave because in good conscience I could no longer stay.

This, folks, is what socialized medicine looks like in the real world. And sadly, we are all veterans now.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
I really envy the opportunity Reagan had when the Air Traffic Controllers went on strike.

Because the ONLY solution I see to is fire everybody and re-hire on case-by-case basis.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Excellent commentary. I remain convinced, though the overall system is in crisis, it depends on which hospital and in which state vets enter. A number of the men I know have received poor care in one state, moved their residences and received excellent care in another. Why, now and all of a sudden, is this issue being addressed in the major media if it has been happening since the beginning? Because of activist Conservative vets and the Internet. We're hearing about this because these vets won't give up just as they didn't give up on the battlefield. God bless them and all our troops!
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (40)
All Comments   (40)
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As many others have pointed out, the cancer of an intractable bureaucracy remorselessly doing "business as usual" to the detriment of the Citizenry is not isolated at the VA.

So maybe we have come to the limit of what the Civil Service Reform in the early 20th century was supposed to fix, and now perhaps we need to return to the Spoils System.

If all of the managers at VA and IRS and whatever other agency know that their economic future is inextricably intertwined with that of the majority party in the Congress...and if the Congress knows that their fates are intermingled with the public's perception of the performance of the bureaucracy, we as citizens and taxpayers might see a more efficient and less-costly and quicker result.

At the least we might cease being taken for granted by the people whose salaries we pay.

That would be a start.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Give our honorable veterans vouchers for the care entitled to them and rename the VA Victims Administration where Congress and government employees can model a program for health care they deserve.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Just for the record, according to OPM's 2012 report, over 30% of those soulless, faceless, uncaring bureaucrats are themselves veterans.

It isn't that federal employees can't be held accountable, it's that nobody in management wants to hold them accountable for fear of being held accountable themselves. Federal employees have nothing like the collective bargaining rights that public employees in the unionized states have; most federal employee protections stem from statute and civil service rules; union contracts just put those protections in the form of a contract enforceable through the grievance and arbitration process, not just the administrative review process and the courts. It creates the same problem we have with statutorily tenured teachers in that they too get at least two bites at the apple to prevent their being disciplined or dismissed.

AFGE isn't much of a union, but it is a very large and influential political party. Supervisors and managers know that if they act on behalf of an aggressive political management, i.e. a Republican Administration, the Democrats will one day come back to power and the AFGE will hand them a hit list of every supervisor or manager who collaborated with the Republicans - or even an aggressive reforming Democrat to the extent that such a thing might exist. Even if Shinseki sincerely wanted to fix things, the people below him would have sandbagged his efforts. In any event, the way to four stars on your shoulders involves more politics than battlefield courage or good management skills so the odds are the 'crats below him gave him the mushroom treatment - kept him in the dark and fed him crap - and he was happy to have it that way right up until somebody had be the scapegoat.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Federal Gov't will pass over 70,000 laws this year. Then each state and territory must conform. Then there's all the changes these laws create relating to everybody outside US. IOW, every law passed in WDC has a 50X+ cost multiplier attached. That's how they grow the maw.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Notice how quickly the dems avoided giving the head of VA the authority to fire his own subordinates. Can't upset our labor union constituancy. That one acttells us their priorities and us vets know it. Nov wont come soon enough.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
The problem is the entire method of doing things within the Federal (and many State) government.

Being a successful bureaucrat means protecting your turf and adding to your boss's empire.

It is never meeting deadline without an Oscar worthy performance showing what a Herculean undertaking it was...and never meeting any deadline from outside your agency.

It is perfecting the art of stalling until the weekend in the hope, often answered, that the problem will either go away or end up on someone else's desk.

Unfortunately this is what it means to be a bureaucrat today....and will most likely continue to be.

And it is NOT a problem that is specific to the VA.

Federal contracting rules alone would make for weeks and months of tales of unintended consequences (and many that were intended but were different than the goals.)

Did you think that the financial crisis was a one off? That it just happened to be the only area where written rules were not upheld, where regulators and overseers were bought off or incompetent?

Sorry my friend, it is the whole edifice that is rotten. Adding additional layers of bureaucracies on top of a rickety foundation is not going to help...and there is no one with sufficient power and expertise to change it.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Federal contracting rules alone would make for weeks and months of tales of unintended consequences (and many that were intended but were different than the goals.)"

I can vouch for this. Last several years we have been funded month to month from October to roughly the following February to April. This is for bare bones services, with no ability to manage/fix/address problem areas or improvements except from early Spring until June/July. Federal contracting requirements are so burdensome that even relativley simple contracting actions are dragged out. Our money expires Sep 30th, but we have to have the contracting actions in to our contracting agency by August 5th to 15th depending on size. Change ANY one thing and the whole effort gets derailed. Anyone tried to buy IT equipment within the government lately? We were MANDATED to get rid of Windows XP, and it took _7 weeks_ to get approval to buy Windows 7 to replace it! Why the heck would we need special approval to buy the most ubiquitous OS in the world and when we had been ordered to do just that? That is just the approval mind you, not the funding action, contract Over & Above (O&A) action issuance to the contractor.

I had Server purchases for a training squadron cancelled two summers in a row due to changes in IT procurement, and had the money expire unused, while 42 desktop computers we had successfully purchased to be run on that server network sat unopened. New computers bought two years ago have just now been unpacked and connected to servers that I finally got purchased this spring.

11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
I had a job once with the civil engineering corps. A goverment job. I was assigned a task of projecting drainage requirements for expected population growth in a city that was having a population explosion due to an oil boom.

I thought it was an excellent report out. Had controlling factors and the data was good.

It was rejected at face value. I was told to go spend another year on it. The implication was that I had resovled the issue in less than a week. That would not fly.

I quit on the spot. Never even picked up that paycheck for the week I was so angry.

Guys, we have millions of government employees like this. They don't care. They never will care. They are all unionized and cannot be fired. Check out the terminiations. Check any agency or department. Doesn't matter which one. There are agencies with hundreds of thousands of employees, and not a single one is fired on an annual basis.

You can be a federal employee and molest children, commit fraud, run over dogs, and commit perjury....

And still get your performance bonus.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
I did a grad school report on my posiition as a DOD employee, and as part of it I stumbled on an analysis of the Federal workforce which literally/mathematically showed that a Federal worker is statistically more likely to die on the job than to be fired. In my seven years on the job I have never seen, nor even heard of a government employee being fired. The best I have seen is that some, when caught at whatever or when pathetic performance is confronted, will retire or resign out of their own sense of personal honor or shame. But fired? None.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
As a former VA physician, I can attest to the complete unfixability of the VA system. Management is primarily concerned with a CYA approach--always covering themselves with the mantra of "compassion" for our Veterans, while at the same time making decisions that interfere with quality medical and psychiatric care. Incompetence is rewarded and instead of fixiing problems, there is always the search for someone to "blame" to get the heat off. I was constantly faced with poor or out of date equipment; pharmaceutical choices that were years behind the private sector; inability to get patient follow up care in a timely manner; inability to refer to competent specialists. It was frustrating and felt like I was constantly pounding my head against a brick wall. I finally had to leave because in good conscience I could no longer stay.

This, folks, is what socialized medicine looks like in the real world. And sadly, we are all veterans now.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Meanwhile, the endlessly expanding welfare state marches on:

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Medicare can no longer automatically deny coverage requests for sex reassignment surgeries, a federal board ruled Friday in a groundbreaking decision that recognizes the procedures are medically necessary for some people who don't identify with their biological sex.

11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
What idiots those on this federal board are! We are born either male or female, and no medical procedure can change that. These procedures are a fancy form of dressing in the clothes that the opposite sex wears. These unfortunately mentally ill people will end up "altered," as the term is used for animals - eunuchs or castrated women. What a waste of tax payers money!
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Seriously? MEDICARE??? So people who are old enough to be on Medicare finally decide they'd rather be a diferent sex and the TAXPAYERS have to pay for it?

Why doesn't this type of surgery fall under cosmetic surgery anyway? If I get fake breasts because I'm a woman with small breasts I have to pay. But if I'm a guy who wants fake breasts the TAXPAYERS have to pay?
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, a woman that wants larger breasts is considered to be normal, while a man who wants breasts is considered to be abnormal and therefore needs more help.

It's like illegal aliens that get the same college tuition rates as legal state citizens - they are disadvantaged and therefore need more help.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
You are behind the times. Illegals get _lower_ college tuition rates than state citizens.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bryan, you describe these "people" accurately.

They are without souls.

Thus, it is hardly surprising they have no honor, no integrity, no conscience.

Isn't it interesting that "people" of this sort appear in such numbers in government agencies that problems become "systemic" ?

Gee, there must be a connection ! (ya think ??!!!)
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
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