As a veteran who struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stemming from military sexual trauma (MST), where a first-class petty officer jumped on my back and tried to rape me. When I see the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports on PTSD from MST, I pay close attention. Since the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues to deny my MST claim because MST does not happen to men, I get agitated when I see these VA-OIG reports repeating year-over-year with the same excuses and designed incompetence. Designed incompetence is all about creating ready-made excuses for failing to perform correctly the role one has been hired or promoted to perform. Consider the following:
“In 2018, the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported that nearly half of disability benefit claims that were denied service connection for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and were related to military sexual trauma were not processed properly.”
That is the first sentence of the VA-OIG report released on 08 December 2020 declaring that the improvements suggested by the VA-OIG in 2018 had not occurred. The following statistics come directly from the report issued.
- 18,300 claims or approximately 16% were processed incorrectly in Fiscal Year 2019
- 118,000 claims were submitted
Why were the claims processed incorrectly; because of designed incompetence by the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). From the report, we find the following five root causes, or excuses: emphasis mine.
- Most errors occurred because claims processors did not verify or ask veterans to provide the disorder’s cause, known as an in-service stressor.
- In other cases, claims processors did not request a medical examination, medical opinion, or clarification of inconsistencies in the examination as required.
- Claims processors made these errors because they did not fully understand PTSD stressor types and the stressor verification process.
- VBA’s Compensation Service did not mandate any national training for claims processors on these subjects except during the first year in the position.
- In addition, VBA’s procedures manual was not effectively organized to allow staff to locate this information and lacked specific guidance for some aspects of PTSD claim processing.
Why are the causes of the problems considered designed incompetence, because they never change! At the VBA, the processors all need constant training to remain current in their positions; but never receive the training. The VBA never holds value-added training sufficient to train the employees on their jobs, but this remains the number one excuse to justify poor performance in VA-OIG inspections. Failure to perform the job is also not a new excuse, where the VA-OIG reports are concerned. Not understanding how to ask for help is also not new, and frankly astounds and mystifies observers that those hired remain employed when their performance clearly remains insufficient to the job expectations. While it is unique to the VA to see a procedure manual, it is only natural and expected that the manual is poorly organized, poorly executed, hard to follow, difficult to find, and generally useless. The VA is famous for this designed incompetence trick.
You say, “Big Deal;” everyone knows the VA is messed up, full of failures, and is generally known for poor performance. Why this is a “Big Deal” stems primarily from the costs associated with poor performance. An annual salary is paid for the processors, the adjudicator, and the entire chain of command, totaling in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The veteran has to pay for lawyers and other services to appeal the original decisions, which take time. The veteran has to pay for a third-party Nexus Letter to accompany the claim to declare the original claim was faulty. All of this requires substantial time investments and other resources, all because the original work has to be duplicated. How many times the claim is duplicated depends upon the processors’ abilities to do the job they were hired to perform.
Your car breaks down; the tow truck driver only secures your vehicle 84% before driving to the auto repair facility, is this satisfactory performance? Your surgeon has an 84% success rate where his patients will live after surgery for tonsil removal, is this satisfactory performance? You are in hospital; your nurse only gets your pain medication to you 84% of the time or is only 84% accurate in providing the right patient the proper medication; is this satisfactory performance? Of course not, but for government employees, this level of performance is “award-winning.”
Congress mandates VBA claim error rates; there is supposed to be a quality assurance check to reduce the error rates. Yet, with all the checks, the balances, and the quality assurance programs, the VBA continues to surpass the error rates and physically harms veterans due to their inefficiencies. Yes; a failure rate of 16% is a “Big Deal!”
Want to know how bad the VA is managing your taxpayer monies; read the audit released 14 December 2020. In that audit, you will find comments like the following:
- The material weakness involving information technology security controls has been reported for more than 10 years.
- VA did not substantially comply with federal financial management systems requirements and the United States Standard General Ledger at the transaction level, as required by the Federal Financial Management Improvement Act.
- [The] VA’s complex, disjointed, and legacy financial management system architecture no longer supports stringent and demanding financial management and reporting requirements.
- VA continued to be challenged [with] consistently enforcing established policies and procedures throughout its geographically dispersed portfolio of outdated applications and systems.
In light of the recent computer hacking issues the Federal Government is experiencing, knowing that the VA has dumped hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to patch and repair, and sometimes replace (sort of), legacy (old, expired, useless, insecure, unreliable, etc.) technology over the last 20-years, how is the VA able to keep getting away with these designed incompetence excuses? Congress, when will you hold the administrator’s feet to the fire for making progress on these glaring issues? Congress receives these VA-OIG reports and audits before they are made public, yet the elected representatives cannot take a moment to check this poor behavior. Why not?
For the first time in more than a decade of chronicling the VA-OIG reports, I am mentioning a monthly highlight (lowlight) condensed report. This report is unique due to the insanity of criminal investigations mentioned, the results of audits, and the healthcare inspections. When you have 18 defendants in a bribery scheme, where 15 plead guilty, who defrauded untold Millions of dollars in Florida, the problem is not so much with the employees, but the organization that allowed this to occur since 2009! A noteworthy criminal investigation indeed.
The highlights (lowlights) of November 2020 also include a VA physician from West Virginia being indicted for abusive sexual contact and simple assault and a surgical supervisor in Northern Ohio who defrauded the VAMC of approximately $3.2 Million in two separate schemes. Regarding financial audits and the importance of improving that ancient technology, a VA Fiduciary has been indicted for misappropriating government funds from Pennsylvania to the tune of more than $155,000. Best of all, a husband and wife team from California, technical school owners, bilked the GI-Bill of more than $29 Million since 2015.
The criminal issues the VA is facing regularly are not a one-off issue, but an organizational design problem as the frauds, thefts, and malfeasance reported is ever only the very top 1% of the problem that is ongoing and systemic in the Department of Veterans Affairs! The November 2020 report discussed an incredible number of canceled patient appointments because veterans and COVID mask mandates do not play well together. Yet, the VA Federal Police cannot stop persecuting veterans for their physical inabilities to wear a mask.
Thus, where are the elected officials from the legislative bodies who possess oversight and funding responsibilities? Where is the executive branch of government in correcting and demanding specific action from the legislative branch? Where are the administrators at the Federal, VISN, and Local levels in performing their jobs? The designed incompetence must cease forthwith to allow for practical changes to be made and the organizational design to be corrected. For the VA-OIG to be forced to accept the same tired, lame, and detestable excuses, year-over-year is the epitome of abuse to the taxpayer and veteran alike!
Worst of all, this condensed version did not even scratch the surface of the issues reported in just three VA-OIG reports. Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame on the elected officials, Republican, Independent, and Democrat, who have allowed this problem to grow and done nothing! Shame on the myriad of presidents who have done nothing but throw good money after bad, without demanding progress and holding real people responsible for real results! Shame on every single VA employee who shirks their job for easiness to the pain and suffering of a veteran, dependent, or spouse!
© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury
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