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“To Care For Him”

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News August 2015

With the 2014 law that permits the dismissal of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) senior executive level employees who previously had significant protections, we’ve seen some significant changes at high management levels take place.

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The VA has used this authority to dismiss five senior executive service employees. However, two of those individuals retired before the termination took effect and critics say that makes the law not particularly effective.

What they overlook, however, is the number of high-level employees who retired or resigned rather than stay on a job which they knew would likely lead to their dismissal once their past performance was reviewed. I know personally of instances and locations where this has taken place.

What the opponents of the law ignore is the fact that the very existence of such authority is itself a deterrent to bad or illegal behavior. This is particularly the case in small primary care VA hospitals where bad managers are sent to get these employees out of sight rather than fire them when they need to be removed from a large visible hospital such as the Phoenix VA. You still have a bad manager now dumped on rural veterans.

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, is taking action to expand the law even further. Under H.R. 1994, the VA Accountability Act of 2015, the secretary of the VA would have the authority to remove any VA employee for poor performance or misconduct.

The bill would reduce the time an employee would have to appeal to seven days from the present 30 days. It would also further reduce the time the Merit Systems Protection Board Judge has to rule to 45 days, which is less than half the normal time.

While we all should be pleased to see the removal of the executive level employees, how many times have you been mistreated by a bored prosthetics clerk, an abusive travel representative or a doctor who has a history of bad medicine? Now a vehicle to remove such employees will exist. The effort by Congress to give a determined secretary the tools he needs to clean up a bureaucratic mess may finally result in real change.

The powerful government employees’ union, the American Federation of Government Employees, is already telling tales of woe. Miller’s bill is in a new stage and will no doubt be worked on and polished to clean it up. It will result from a lot of consultation from many parties who have an interest.

I would like to see the dentist, who refused to permit VA coverage of my front tooth replacement injured in a service-connected aircraft accident with the statement to my private dental surgeon that “he doesn’t need one there, there are plenty left on that side,” disciplined in some way. It cost me $6,000 out of pocket to avoid looking like someone in the movie Deliverance.

After dealing with the VA for 41 years, I’ve experienced my share of employees who need to be taken aside and lectured on what the people they’re serving have sacrificed and lost.

Before we criticize and ask for defeat of Miller’s work on H.R. 1994, let’s see what it ends up finally being after the modifications it will undoubtedly experience. We still have too many people working at the VA who wouldn’t know what the motto of the VA is when asked.

No one knew better than President Abraham Lincoln who at his Second Inaugural Address during the throes of the final end of the Civil War ended his speech with, “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”

Too many who work in the VA have forgotten that regardless of what their specific job description is, it’s overridden by those precious words.

 

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“To Care For Him”

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