Monday, March 2, 2009

The VA Needs a House Cleaning NOW!

The VA Needs a House Cleaning NOW!

Examples of why a House Cleaning of the VA is URGENT

by Bob Hanafin, Staff Writer

A few days ago, I posted the latest Veterans Benefits Committee Report to come out of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) calling for a house cleaning of VA upper and middle management as written by Chair, Jerry Klein.

It's only natural that one would expect VVA (and I) to take heat for such a call to clean house, but I never expected anyone to attack Brother Klein as a scumbag or manure bag (though that wasn't the polite term used) nor that kind of overreaction the call received.

However, it is just the sort of reaction that only serves to reinforce what Jerry Klein at VVA has said, and stresses the URGENCY by which upper and middle management at the VA must be investigated and dismissed for setting the anti-veteran tone of leadership, or view that most Vets are out to scam us taxpayers. The U.S. taxpayer gets more fiscal scams out of the Pentagon than we ever will from America's veterans.

Stolen Valor was written essentially of partisan spin and to advocate such a tone and view of our nation's Veterans as those who claim below that we are not paint the picture that we are exactly that - welfare cases or in the words sent to VVA by a VA Claims examiner who preferred to remain Name Withheld, "We are not welfare they are located in a different office, and I'm sure they are willing to help those who refuse to help themselves."

Frankly, I take issue with the VVA Veteran publishing anything someone is afraid to put their name on as if they have something to hide. Guess I can say that because I put my real name on everything I write or say come what may including death. At the end of this article we provide an inside look at Stolen Valor and why this book written about an old war needs to concern 21st century veterans and military families. Click on the photo for an Amazon listing of the book's table of contents and closely scrutinize what is listed below the first chapter on Fake Veterans, and we rest our case that this IS NOT a scholarly work of art.

I made an intelligent decision not to delete the response of the guy who called Brother Klein and I both scumbags and manure bags for a reason - to reinforce what Vietnam Veteran Klein had to say. Sort of SEE this is exactly what we mean by the Stolen Valor mentality and attitude that is essentially anti-veteran.

Keep in mind that the criticism of Stolen Valor comes solely from Major Hanafin not Brother Klein or VVA, there are just too many stolen valor advocates in VVA membership for our organization to take the book or what's in it on, although in addition to being anti-PTSD and anti-Agent orange Stolen Valor was and those with that mentality remain anti-VVA. Note also that I am NOT a VVA spokesman. Regardless, it is this view and those who advocate it that spin the VA and Veterans into a welfare system and welfare cases. More on that below.

In order to highlight points, I'm going to mix the highlights of Brother Klein's call for house cleaning with feedback on such from an opposite view and do it as respectfully and dignified as possible. No, I'm not going to call Stolen Valor fanatics scumbag or what have you. In fact, I seriously thank them for serving the nation and U.S. Constitution that allows me to be a scumbag if I so desire, as long as I know both Brother Klein and I are RIGHT.

Robert L. Hanafin
Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired
Life Member, Disabled American Veterans.


Negative feedback shows that a House Cleaning at VA is essential and Urgent.

As stated in my original post, when forward thinking VSO's talk about beefing up the VA staff. I believe that means as well said by VVA Veterans Benefits Committee Chair Jerry Klein (not Kelly, my bust and apologies Brother Klein) CLEANING HOUSE at VA upper and middle management to hold responsible both political appointees and career VA bureaucrats who followed a partisan political strategy that was anti-Veteran and spread the false impression that ALL America's Veterans were out to screw the American Tax payer.

Despite feedback to the contrary Brother Klein and I are calling for a House Cleaning at upper and middle management NOT every VA employee, doctor, nurse, and so on. In fact, if the focus were on a gutting of the VA, I would never have invited former or current VA employees with access or proof that claims were shredded or sabotaged in their departments or offices to step forward. We know there are ethical and dignified employees at the VA. We are not saying the VA system is a cesspool it is just has been led, well by politicians who never seriously had the interests of fellow veterans at heart EVEN if they were Veterans themselves (once again see Stolen Valor). If one wants to call them scumbags have at it we will not. Why?

Because the problems with the VA, and there are many, have root cause in an attitude and are systemic not individual employee motivated. When I worked at VA hardly an employee at lower level where I worked gave a rat’s butt about politics or the politicians temporarily running the VA. However attitude was everything. VA employees could either ignore it in the best interest of Vets or advocate the veteran as enemy cost sayings emphasis.

Here’s what I’m talking about. VVA published this feedback from someone with an opposite view; since the person is anonymous there is no telling he/she was even a veteran, but I’m not into Fake Veterans, especially if they talk nonsense.

That said, who cares, it’s the attitude reflected by this so-called Veteran and military retiree that matters. Name withheld or anonymous writes that the VA is not a Welfare system yet the entire articulation (point) paints those who make use of the benefit as welfare cases. I’m not going to fat finger the entire comment only the fine points. The person claims to be a retired military member, disabled veteran, and VA employee (I assume that means current employee for NOW).

They take offense at VVA’s continuous lawsuits against the VA that hit at the heart of both the Stolen Valor attitude and anti-veteran atmosphere at the VA that treats all Veterans as the enemy.

THE VA NOT WELFARE (page 45 of the VVA Letters section, Jan/Feb 2009)

“Let me give you a great example of what we see every day. A veteran comes into the office, his (what about her? Anyway) application is a third of the way completed, he or she has no DD-214, no service medical records, and claims twelve disabilities. First, we have to request the records from NPRC. This process takes about 60 to 90 days. How come you aren’t suing NPRC for this delay?”

What this VA claim adjudicator fails to mention to VVA is that he is but one of 13,000 VA employees, where does he/she fit in the organizational chart at left? Could it be the 50% of VA personnel dedicated to Step 4 the rating team that makes decisions on claims, and notifies Vets of decisions? Maybe not since he is whining about an abundance of incomplete claims then he/she must work in either step 2, the Triage Team that processes incoming applications’, or step 3, the predetermination team that develops evidence and prepares administrative decisions. From the tone of the feedback it sounds like whining about Step 3 the Predetermination Team.

Well take more employees out of the Rating Team and place them on the team that’s whining about incomplete claims or simply refuse to accept incomplete claims. Put the onus on us Veterans to prove we are who we are and have what we have related to military service either directly or indirectly. The deciding factor at VA adjudications has always been on relationship to military service NOT combat service, and it’s been that way since WWII.

I also get the hint these unfounded complaints are directed at older Vets who file claims in their later years NOT younger vets who are more accustomed to filling out forms given relatively recent military service where form filling out is an art. One can see where such a negative attitude is discriminatory to our older vets and families who are less inclined to even want to fill out any government forms.

Well not speaking for VVA, but as a former VA employee with general understanding of the claims process. Exactly how many cases as described by this VA claims examiner actually fit this description? If too many, that also needs to be looked at as part of any house cleaning. This may be true to a limited degree with Vietnam War Vets who are finally filing claims when they realize they really need the VA, but I refuse to believe this is true about any younger Veterans who left service or retired after 1994 (the Gulf War Era). Why?

Surprisingly I’m going to say something good about both the DoD and the VA for that matter. Both went out of their way to provide us younger Vets, especially military retirees, transition assistance briefings that detailed what was required to file a VA claim. Everyone in those briefings were told by VA briefers, heck they even held our hands to ensure that every and any ailment, combat or combat support wounds or illness under the sun must be reported. In the DC area in fact, VA representatives actually strongly encouraged Vets and Retirees to dry run their claims through the VA Regional Office in DC for quality check.

However, this was during the Clinton administration (1994) when the VA was more proactive in ensuring Veterans knew how to file claims. I have nothing but high praise for a joint DoD/VA effort and relationship that went downhill since the Bush administration came in with the Stolen Valor strategy for cost savings on the backs of all America’s vets by spinning an insignificant few as fakes and welfare cases. Blaming the older Vets and family members by whining about them not being able to properly fill out a VA claim form, yet who now need the VA more than ever, is not the answer.

In fact, no wonder the claims examiner wants his/her name withheld, they would be the first I would recommend have their claims denial quota and adjudication actions closely investigated and Name Withheld considered for dismissal if documentation proves sabotage of even one claim. This attitude and feedback alone should be grounds for dismissal if he/she is upper, middle management or just some clerk adjudicating claims at the GS-5 level. (Major Hanafin) Oh, there’s more:

“Then the same veteran is claiming hearing loss, knee pain, back pain, and individual unemployability. Ever stop to think this might have to do with age and what type of work he has done since his discharge?”

Again, I believe this has more to do with the attitude of most veterans are out to scam both the VA system and American tax payer, look the page number up in Stolen Valor. I also strongly believe this VA claims examiner is painting a piss poor picture of most Vietnam Vets not younger Veterans from the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan War, because this overblown stereotype just doesn’t stick to a well computer literate generation.

One way to remedy this piss poor attitude and spin is a proactive Veterans Preference in hiring that gets younger Veterans into the claims processing system to replace the dismiss folks like this VA claims examiner with the stolen valor attitude. That hiring process should include screening to ensure future adjudicators do not have the same attitude that all veterans are out to scam the system. Such paranoia must be stopped and stopped NOW. (Major Hanafin) Oh, it gets even worse:

“Then we have thousands of claims that include the statement, “without my benefits I will lose my house, my car, can’t pay my bills, etc.” How did Mr. Veteran (note the tone used by a cough VA Claims examiner in referring to any Vet filing a claim as Mr.) pay these bills before he filed for benefits?”

I have both a legal and bureaucratic response to this that places the burden on the VA Claims examiner to prove the above statement before being dismissed. If Name Withheld cannot provide VA/IG investigators with documented proof that he has access to one hundred, let alone thousands of, claims that include the above statement, he should be immediately fired with no VA Federal Union protections what so ever.

On the other hand, if he can provide proof, especially in the thousands, that so many claim applications include that caveat by all means that too needs to be reported to Secretary Shinseki’s VA/IG, however even IF the statement were true, highly doubtful, a Veterans financial status nor plight should never be the determining factor in any adjudication decision, so what’s the point?

Simply put that too is something that any house cleaning needs to closely scrutinize. (Major Hanafin) Now, he is going to remind us that we did not earn compensation it is a welfare check as he tries to convince us the VA is not a welfare system even as he describes it as such. Which is it, and that’s where the stolen valor attitude really get confusing?

“Please keep in mind that the monthly compensation check is a benefit, not something all veterans “deserve” just because they joined the military.”

Now, imagine if he had placed the word “earned” where “deserve” is, then think about the fact that most veteran, including those working for the VA, already know and understand compensation may or may not be deserved but every Veteran earned the right to apply for it as highlighted in the photo at left. All this VA Claims examiner has done thus far is discourage and shame any vet who files a claim period. (Major Hanafin) That is the root of the problem this stolen valor mentality.

“We are not welfare they are located in a different office, and I’m sure they are willing to help those who refuse to help themselves.”

Frankly this is exactly the attitude that led to VA upper and middle management following advice such as, “Given that we are having more and more compensation seeking veterans, I’d like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out. Consider a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder, R/O, PTSD. Additionally, we really don’t or have little time to do the extensive testing that should be done to determine PTSD. Also, there have been some (note that even this crook means SOME not ALL Vets) incidence where the veteran has a Compensation and Pension, is not given a diagnosis of PTSD, then the veteran comes here and we give the diagnosis, and the veteran appeals his case based on or assessment (this senior VA official really meant reassessment).

Question is what part did Name Withheld play in implementing such suggestions given his/her stolen valor attitude? Again grounds for dismissal. This is also the reason why former or current VA employees who have personally witnessed this disgraceful behavior must step forward or you are potentially guilty of withholding information of wrong doing just to protect your job or worse yet went along with it.

Bottom line: this feedback to VVA only serves to reinforce Brother Klein’s (VVA’s) call for a House Cleaning at VA Regional Offices (neither he nor VVA is calling for a House Cleaning at Hospitals YET). You see I can say things not being in the VVA leadership that few with the exception of Jerry Klein have had the courage to say in order to keep peace in house and of course retain or expand membership.

Thus, once again not speaking for VVA, this VA Claims Examiner starts off with a great example of veterans (exact number unknown or undocumented but supposedly in the thousands) coming into his office with incomplete VA Claim forms and no DD-214, spins the tale without providing proof that thousands of claim submissions have a statement whining because thousands (mind you of his fellow vets) will lose their livelihood without benefits. Does he show a little compassion although losing their livelihood should not even be a consideration of claim adjudication, NO!

Wo, any Vet who files a claim is rarely going to get 100% service-connection that easily and if those statements are a fact financial need is one that VA adjudicators need not and should not take into consideration unless the application is for a VA Pension that has traditionally been need based. I believe that the number of veterans seeking let alone qualifying for a needs based pension is far fewer than those seeking service-connected disability compensation, and critics emphasizing the social welfare aspects of the VA Pension do ALL veterans a disservice. Why?

Frankly, I passionately doubt Name Withheld can provide evidence that what he claims is true, and if he can’t he/she has earned and deserves dismissal or forced retirement if that be the case.

Closer to home here on Veterans Today, I got this feedback from a reader calling Brother Klein a scumbag and shitbag for calling for a House Cleaning at VA that focused on only upper and middle management NOT the every VA employee.

“The VA has the best medical care in the United States, Their employees are the most caring, both medical and office personnel of any health care establishment that I have ever received care in. You do no good by trashing the people that work for the VA.”

First off, neither Brother Klein nor I mentioned anything about upper or middle managers in the medical care side of the house, but now that you brought it up. HUM?

You need to comprehend what you read. Nothing in his report, or my commentary, mentioned anything about ALL VA EMPLOYEES, that’s your spin on it. In fact, nothing is mentioned about “any VA health care establishment only adjudication at Regional Offices,” and if you don’t know the difference between what regional offices do and what a medical facility does, come back when you’ve done your homework. They are two separate functions that may collaborate in sabotaging claims, but I personally believe that VA doctors and nurses are less inclined to have stolen valor views unless they are influenced by them from up above or from VA administration.

VVA’s focus is on corruption and mine is on the stolen valor attitude (my words not VVA’s) of some upper and mid-level managers (MANAGERS– there is a vast difference between political appointees, entrenched bureaucrats, and rank and file at both Regional Offices and Medical Centers just like there is a leadership difference between officers, NCOs, and lower enlisted folks.)

“Now for the veterans, most veterans that I come in contact with are good people, the veterans that receive compensation, myself included are grateful to our nation for providing for us in our time of need. Some veterans, no matter what the VA provides them with will never be satisfied.”

Once again you are spinning and stereotyping without links, facts or figures to back up your opinions. What exactly do you mean by some veterans, no matter what the VA provides them with, will never be satisfied? Without clarity you too are painting the VA as a Welfare system, in your own words, “providing for us in our time of need” Exactly what does that mean, did the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines, or our government ask you or me how much money we made or did they use a cost analysis or needs base approach in hiring or drafting US?

Our government did not care how much money we did or did not make when it sent us in harm’s way, when we joined or were drafted into the service of our country, why should they or you care NOW? Once again I’m passionate about this because: NOW MORE THAN EVER AMERICA’S VETERANS DO A JOB THAT MOST AMERICAN WON’T DO!!!

“To use that scumbag from the VVA to trash the people that work for a living in the Veterans Administration is sinful and to suggest that they should be replaced is disgusting. I think that shitbag; Kline (it’s spelled Klein) should be replaced at the VVA. You trash the traditional Veterans organizations as stolen valor organizations, but the VVA has only about 40 thousand members out of 8 million eligible and most of them were never in Vietnam, or in some cases not even in the military.”

This last comment does more to reinforce what both Brother Klein and I are saying, he speaking for VVA, and I for MYSELF. Thank God the Veteran calling us scumbags and shitbags is not a VA Claims Examiner, but it is those who are with his attitude that must be dismissed. He and they will call their fellow Veterans scumbag and shitbag just because we collectively see through the ignorance of the stolen valor mentality and the sinful and disgraceful attitude it promotes in spinning ALL VETERANS to be welfare cases, and the enemy of the VA. What proof can he point our readers that “VVA has only about 40 thousand members out of 8 million eligible and most of them were never in Vietnam, or in some cases not even in the military?” Regardless that has nothing to do with the issues at hand and is off topic.

This response is nothing but partisan political rhetoric and that is what Stolen Valor was really designed for and still used for if such Vets can get away with it. The Stolen Valor Act was passed, oh yes, and that too was nothing but a bipartisan political side show to placate those who want to feel good about ourselves as the rest of the nation, and the politicians using and exploiting US get away with it – DAH!

My apologies to other readers, I usually don’t take to task anyone to responds to me either in agreement or disagreement, but if you can’t do it respectfully nothing you say will be taken serious, and you’ll only be made fun of, but I refuse to do so by-name. Names don’t matter only attitudes matter.

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