Certain of us have been there. We’re told one thing by somebody at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and another thing happens. It’s rarely the medicos. They’re pretty okay. It’s some of the admin types. If they’re not blatantly lying, as they’ve been caught doing numerous times around the country, then they’re kicking the can down the road hoping we’ll just go away and leave them to their daily duty of Facebook and personal phone calls.
No wonder people don’t want socialized medicine.
And don’t think this is an issue just for veterans. The VA accounts for a serious chunk of the federal budget, not to mention any moral duty we have to people who have served the nation in uniform. Is there a magic pill to make all the problems at the VA go away? Unlikely. But there are several steps that can make the situation better. To wit:
By Attrition, Replace Every Non-Veteran Employee with a Veteran
Look, if the person at the window was a vet, instead of a bureaucrat you had to suck up to, then you could say “Hey bud, been here for two hours. What gives?” Instead of tugging on your forelock and imploring, “Excuse me, but could you please tell me when I might be seen. I’ve been here two hours after my appointment time,” as you slink back to your 1970s era waiting area seat, hoping that look you got, nose peering down over their glasses, doesn’t mean you’ll be waiting another two hours.
We also have a problem with unemployment amongst vets, which leads to a host of other issues. This ameliorates that. Also in this plan you don’t fire anyone. Unless very special circumstances apply, when someone leaves or retires they have to be replaced by a military veteran. Vets will have years in the federal system so that will give them some time already in the bag towards retirement. Vets usually have a decent work ethic and understand a chain of command. But most of all, they’re virtual brothers and sisters of the people they’re serving, and like in any very extended family, they’re gonna have some better than average empathy. However, none of that can happen if we don’t…
Break the Union
AFSCME, and any other public sector union, is an unnecessary evil. The lowest of the low, a rung lower on the moral scale than Harvey Weinstein on a bad day. No, scratch that. Weinstein only used hookers himself. Public sector unions prostitute the public welfare out to liberal politicians in a votes/campaign cash for bloated pay and perks exchange. As my hero Cal Coolidge said about a police strike in Boston, “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.” As the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), a public sector union, showed us decades ago, some don’t agree with Silent Cal. But his successor in spirit, The Gipper, reminded them of a thing or two.
And just like PATCO, the current president can give VA union members a choice: fold up the union shop or we make the VA a civilian-free shop right now. That oughta clarify their thinking. You know President Trump would relish the opportunity.
Bring in the Raiders
No, not Jack Tatum and his crew. Though I bet they’d get someone’s attention. But guys like Mitt Romney, fabled corporate raiders who came in, chopped heads, reorganized, and sold it or made the firm profitable. Your typical VA bureaucrat promoted from within is like a current pal of the pope’s (more on that theme soon, in a sequel to “The Boys in the Basilica“) promoted to cardinal. He’s fruit (the Catholic bishop jokes write themselves) from the poison tree. We need a capitalist buccaneer in there who will have the customer in mind and shake the place up like a walking earthquake.
Outsource and Privatize
Contractors are cheaper than employees and private sector firms are usually more efficient and cost effective than any public sector entity. Let veterans go to local docs and specialists, especially those vets who live a bit away. I know the Trump administration has made some strides here and that’s great. But give vets a choice of VA or not. The savings to the federal budget on labor and infrastructure could be great, as vets go to private docs at private offices and hospitals.
One thing I found when I ran a homeless shelter for veterans for four years, is that it takes a while, in my case it was about a year, to take civilians, turn them into members of the military, and ship them out to their first duty station. But you go from a trooper back to a civilian in a matter of a couple of weeks. A slew of the problems vets deal with emanate from the fact that they go into the military at a young age with little life experience. When they leave the service they’re not prepared for civilian life because when their civilian pals were learning about living on their own, the trooper was crawling around some desolate third world hellhole searching for cover. Or, in my case, carousing around Western Europe on the taxpayer’s dime.
Thus, give a vet an option to go, right after they get out of the military, to a ninety-day course. You might call it Civilian Basic Training. Extending the time they’re under military control, give them basic instruction in personal finance, job hunting, relocation, healthcare, vet benefits, etc. At the end of the program a job fair might work, as employers value the discipline and work ethic of vets. It’s preventive maintenance and it might cut down on PTSD. It could also prevent other lifestyle-associated ills that could make a vet seek out the VA in the first place. There are old military bases that could be ramped up to house such programs, one each in several regions of the country.
Now, don’t get me wrong. A lot of VA folks of all types are good people. I had the privilege of working with many of them at the Philadelphia VA and they were top notch. Same with the Baltimore VA. But the scandals in Arizona, and yes, in Philly regarding appointment backlogs and employee salaries and promotions were indicative of an institutional problem that has yet to be sufficiently addressed.
Men and women who have served and bled for their country deserve better than that. The VA needs to rise to that task.