Memorial Day is a time to honor those who gave their lives in the service of their country. This year, the news is occupied with stories of how we dishonor those who gave up their health, parts of their bodies, and/or their mental stability—also in the service of their country. It’s easier—and cheaper—to think of dead veterans than of those asking us for help.
The scandals in Veterans hospitals are disturbing, but shouldn’t be surprising. I worked for the Veterans Administration before it became the Department of Veterans Affairs. Year after year I saw our budget cut or remain stagnant in the face of rising costs. During this time of shrinking resources, managers at all levels were required to maintain or improve productivity—and probably still are.
Can’t they work smarter and find economies? It’s been thirty years since I first saw how things were done. Innovations and legitimate cost cutting were exhausted long ago. Meanwhile, bonuses, promotions, and even career survival depends on handing in better and better numbers.
I recall overhearing a conversation between two division chiefs in the benefits processing department. Our office had four such chiefs. One complained to the other that one of the two not present was getting this year’s bonus. He explained that three of the four chiefs had productivity figures and wait-time figures very close to each other, but the bonus winner had done twenty percent better.
Yet, the Regional Director did not ask how the bonus winner achieved these remarkable numbers. The complaining chief said that if he were in charge, he’d want to know what this fellow was doing so he could have all of his divisions emulate him. And, if this fellow were doing something shady, the hypothetical director would want to stop it. But, the Regional Director merely handed out the bonus without investigation. Why? Because the bonus winner’s numbers improved the standing of the entire region, and if the Director were to find something wrong, he’d have to stop it—and his numbers would fall.
So, it is across the country. Office is compared to office. Those with better numbers are rewarded and no-one wants to look too close at the success of subordinates.
That’s the culture. There are good people in the DVA who sincerely care about our veterans, but they’re placed in an impossible position by politicians who want something for nothing. A stingy Congress is getting what it’s paid for. Veterans have a right to complain. They've earned the right to complain. Congress hasn’t. Why do we keep re-electing these bastards?