In a week marked by the contentious debate over health care, something that hopefully both sides can agree on happened Friday afternoon.
Over the last few years, reports of corruption and incompetence at the VA has brought the issue of veterans’ health care to the forefront of American politics.
President Trump, President Obama before him, top VA officials and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle have expressed an equal level of outrage over the horrid conditions and practices at VA hospitals and the neglectful treatment of our nation’s veterans.
Everyone involved had promised time and time again to rectify the situation. So, what has been the result of these promises? More incompetency and corruption at the VA.
In remarks made in August 2015, former VA secretary Robert A. McDonald said, “Today, we are meeting veterans growing demand with more of everything available-more hours, more space, more people, more productivity, more accountability, more transparency, and more choice.” McDonald then added, “To improve veterans care for years to come we’re transforming the VA-applying proven customer service principles from the public and private sectors.”
While it remains unclear what principles Secretary McDonald was referring to, it can be safely assumed that the one principle from the private sector that was not adopted by the VA was the only one that could potentially save the organization.
And now we have a President who is an expert in that private sector principle – the ability to say “You’re fired!”
President Trump on Friday signed a bill that would protect whistleblowers and make it easier to fire employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to Fox News.
The bill, known as “The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act,” was passed by Congress in early June and “streamlines the process to remove, demote, or suspend VA employees for poor performance or misconduct.” It also authorizes the VA secretary to recoup bonuses awarded to undeserving employees.
According to former VA deputy secretary Sloan Gibson, “accountability” means taking “appropriate actions,” making sure workers are trained and the work environment is “free of fear.”
That one statement essentially summed up all the problems inherent within the VA. There was no fear, no accountability and no repercussions.
Fear of losing one’s job, right or wrong, is the main motivator behind most private sector employment. In the VA, there is no fear so there is no accountability. How can people expect productivity with no accountability?
While investigating reports of malpractice at the VA, former chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Jeff Miller, noted that instead of terminating the offenders, “the VA often just transfers them to other VA facilities, or puts them on paid leave for months on end.”
Like so many public sector jobs, the worst disciplinary action an individual can face is a stern warning and a paid vacation. When someone perpetually screws up, don’t fire them. Send them home with pay or just place them in a room somewhere and tell them not to touch anything. Then spend more taxpayer money to hire someone else to actually do the job.
Until the signing of this bill, the typical process for dealing with incompetency or corruption at a government agency went something like this:
Request more taxpayer money in order to “properly train” their staff. Give employees overtime pay to attend courses telling them not to be incompetent or corrupt. Warn them that if they continue to fail at their job, they will be forced to sit in a room and play games on their computers all day or go home and collect a paycheck indefinitely. Inform them that they may potentially forfeit their performance bonus temporarily and be forced to suffer the inconvenience of filing official paperwork in order to receive said bonus retroactively at a later date.
Past accusations at the VA have included such egregious practices as shredding important patient documents rather than processing them, patients with maggot infested wounds, and using non-sterilized equipment which led to the VA sending out hundreds of letters informing patients that they may have been infected with AIDS.
Why would someone shred crucial patient documents related to veterans’ health care? Because it’s easier to shred documents than to actually process them. And how can I be expected to do my Christmas shopping and manage my fantasy football team if I have to do this pesky paperwork?
And how did they handle such an horrible malpractice? Was everyone involved immediately relieved of their duties?
In typical big government bureaucratic fashion, the response was to hire more people to look into the matter. The VA blamed the shredding on “lack of training.” They simply needed more money to tell people not to shred patient documents or to use properly sterilized equipment.
In nearly every case of public sector worker incompetence, the offenders are essentially told “please stop doing that but even if you don’t, no big deal, you’ll still get your bonus.”
Will President Trump’s signing of the VA reform bill finally bring some accountability to the Department of Veterans Affairs? We can only hope so.
[image via screengrab]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.