Firing VA workers, closing facilities, etc.

The Veterans Administration (VA) facilities are mostly doing the best they can do under the circumstances, but there are always problems.

By Bob Gutsche, VietNow National VA Chairman

VA accountability

There appears to be significant bipartisan support in Congress to pass legislation that would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to fire employees who are not productive, along with those who are performing poorly as managers.

There also is support from the major veterans service organizations for this action, as well as from the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

There is resistance to this legislation from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). The union claims it would adversely affect employees and not management. Perhaps the resistance is based on the union’s perception that they will lose power and influence over employees.

There may also be concern that if this legislation becomes law, other federal agencies may want to apply the same kind of law to their agency.

Should this legislation become law there is little doubt that it will be met with challenges in the courts by the union and others.

Proof of veteran status

The Veterans Identification Card Act of 2015 ordered the VA to develop a hard-copy photo ID card – and the VA announced that they would be developing an identification card for all veterans that would negate the problem of proving that you were a veteran or having to carry your DD Form 214 with you. It would also do away with the need to produce your Social Security card for identification.

Now, it’s mid-2017, and the VA has still not produced the identification card. The VA has still been unable to comply with the law, and cannot say when the card will be available to veterans.

Yes, you will be able to obtain one when you pay the yet-to-be-determined fee for the card.

Be careful when you call

A newly discovered scam directed at veterans has surfaced. Veterans calling to inquire about or to enroll in the CHOICE program have been targeted by unscrupulous people.

The scam that has been discovered has a phony telephone number for the CHOICE program. When veterans call, scammers ask them to enroll, ask for their credit card numbers, and promise them a $100 rebate.

The correct number for the CHOICE program is 866.606.8198. The people who are running the scam had only to change the 866 to 800, and thereby created the opportunity for the scam.

Closing of some facilities

Recently the VA Secretary has announced the possibility of closing some under-utilized or vacant buildings as a cost-saving measure for the VA.

While this makes good fiscal sense, what is disturbing is that the Secretary has also suggested closing Audiology and Optometry services, saying that there is a “LensCrafters on every corner.” Apparently he has not been to many rural VA Medical Centers.

Could a move such as these potential closures be the first step to privatization of the VA health care?

A real thirst quencher

Remember the Camp Lejeune issue with the contaminated water over a period of many years? The military is now testing the ground water from nearly four hundred current or former military bases for possible contamination.

While the Air Force has followed through and completed the testing of all their bases, the Navy has only managed to test approximately 10 percent of their bases, while the Army has not even begun the process.

One can only begin to speculate the impact this will have on the VA should there be a correlation to various illnesses due to the consumption of water at even a small percentage of these bases.

Bad paper: The rest of the story

The recent announcement that many veterans with “bad paper” (discharges other-than-honorable) may be entitled to VA health care has raised eyebrows of many in the veteran community, as well as some members of Congress.

What has not been publicized is just why many have been awarded bad paper discharges, which often arise from minor misconduct, such as being late, and similar offenses.

Recently the Government Accounting Office released a report that many of these veterans were discharged improperly.

Apparently the Department of Defense (DOD) has not followed its own policy of taking into consideration the service-connected medical conditions affecting these members.

During one four-year period, the military discharged 91,764 members for misconduct. Of this number, 62 percent, or 57,141, were diagnosed with PTSD, TBI, or other disorders such as bipolar, anxiety, adjustment disorder, or substance abuse within two years of separation from the military.

Most were given general discharges, but 13,283 were given discharges titled “Other Than Honorable,” which barred them from VA health care.

Research discovered that neither the Navy nor the Air Force had in place a policy to screen service members for PTSD or TBI prior to separation for misconduct.

The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act has incorporated a policy called the “Fairness for Veterans Act,” requiring DOD to consider medical evidence from the service member’s medical record.

Special sale

Armed Forces Day
Honoring those who are currently serving.

Memorial Day
Honoring those who paid the ultimate price.

Veterans Day
Honoring those who have served.

Nowhere do I see a reason to have a sale. Perhaps if veterans and active military would refuse to shop at these “veteran-related” sales the message might hit home.

 

Bob Gutsche, VietNow National VA ChairmanAfter over 20 years in the U.S. Navy, VietNow National VA Chairman, Bob Gutsche worked as a counselor in the VA system for many years.