In a Fox News article from yesterday, the following is said:
Congress is turning up the heat on President Obama to cut the backlog of Veterans Affairs disability claims, which has gone up by 2,000 percent while the agency’s budget has increased by 40 percent over the past four years. …
“As a reminder, during this same time period, Congress has given (Veterans Affairs) everything it has asked for in terms of more funding and more employees,” said the bipartisan Senate letter. “However, this has not eliminated the backlog of claims. … This country must be grateful for the safe homecoming of every single man and woman who has served in harm’s way.”
Veterans Affairs officials point out the agency has completed a record 4.1 million claims over the past four years but acknowledge more work remains.
But, I work for the VA. Here is what I can tell you without violating any guidelines. I have not received any cost of living adjustment for three years. This is thanks to those who insisted that those of us who work for the Federal government somehow are overpaid. However, in my job category the Federal government was forced to add a “locality adjustment” many years ago because our technical GS classification pays so low that it would be impossible to get VA employees if it were not for the “adjustment.” Now we are slowly returning to the low pay which prevented good employees from being hired.
At another VA for which I worked, they were told that they were not allowed to hire replacement “techs” for those who resigned, retired, etc., in part because of the money crunch. At one point, the clinical laboratory for which I worked at that time was up to seven people short, by our reckoning, and we had difficulty in getting approval to hire replacements. We got up to seven people short because eventually people began to resign or transfer because they felt overworked. This is not the fault of the VA. This harks back to the same Congress who is complaining so much.
The VA is not perfect by a long shot. And, it is a government bureaucracy. What I have learned is that the same huge amounts of paperwork are required here as in any Federal agency. But, I have also learned that many parts of the paperwork are required because of some Congressional mandate or other which requires us to “prove” that we are complying with one or another of their directives.
But, the only way to “prove” compliance is by way of written proof (think lawyers). Thus, if there is a mandate to reduce paperwork, then you must have new paperwork to prove that you have reduced the old paperwork. Can you see the Catch-22 in this way of thinking?
Moreover, in the current climate, government bureaucracies are under vastly increased and quite partisan scrutiny. Let me give you one instance. Recently, a self-righteous report came out about how the VA had produced a training film that supposedly crossed the line by using a Star Trek theme. Yet, it is quite normal for private industry to produce training films with “cute” themes. They are meant to catch and keep the interest of the employee so that the training message is communicated. But, in the current state of the Congress, somehow using private industry methods is wrong.
Has the VA misbehaved? Yes, there is one famous recently convention in which it did. But, by and large I would defend the VA in many things. The reports you read in the news are not fully accurate, at least from the viewpoint of the common employee in the VA. The news media is as caught up in Washington as is the Congress. What may be happening among high-up Federal bureaucrats is completely foreign to the ground troops who are slogging it out in the trenches of your local VA hospital.
You will find no overpaid bureaucrats in your local VA hospital. You will find people working all too hard with not enough resources or pay. We, in the USA, have wanted to fight wars that have lasted over a decade but complain about the high price that we have to pay to care for our veterans. We grant unlimited benefits and then complain because they are used. We want VA employees to care for an increasing number of veterans while imposing greater and greater reporting burdens on them. We want VA employees to care unstintingly for the veterans, but stint on their pay. But, Congress insists that it is all our fault.
It is not. Should I mention that nearly half of all VA employees are veterans? Would it surprise you that we feel as though we are receiving mixed messages?