The opinion article published from the Denver Post, Nov. 29, speaks to the desire to appoint Rep. Jeff Miller as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and supports Rep. Miller’s proposed legislation to address the problems within the Veterans Administration.
The authors approve of Rep. Miller’s legislation because it “would make it far easier to discipline problem employees ....” President Obama has opposed this legislation because it “significantly alters and diminishes important rights and protections ....” The article continues with the opinion that “the vast majority of the employees are hardworking and dedicated to serving veterans and many are there as a ‘labor of love’ ....” It’s a labor of love since employees are battling the public’s and Congressional perceptions of below-standard care of our veterans but are there for their respect for service to our country.
The protections afforded federal employees are essential to a well-run business, including decreased turnover, improved efficiencies, improved care and retaining institutional knowledge. They include giving the employee an opportunity to improve their performance if it’s found lacking. If an employee is removed from service they have the right of appeal, inherent in our nation’s legal process. The employee will not continue working unless the decision is overturned. At that time, they would be returned to their position or they would be provided other remedies.
I personally testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee about 10 years ago, regarding the VA program, Project Hero, and its intent to move veteran’s care to outside for-profit companies, which don’t have the same employee protections or that provide that “labor of love.” This program was run by a huge managed care entity, which made quite a profit while the program was in place. This was money that could have been used to open more rural clinics, hire more medical staff, and provide the excellent care that veterans receive. The managed care company admitted during its testimony that it wouldn’t be able to match or improve upon the standards of care provided by the VA. In several cases veterans were expected to travel up to 200 miles to receive a colonoscopy, a standard of preventive medicine. The managed care company scheduled these veterans with the lowest bidder for the procedure, again with the intent to increase profits. It’s no surprise that many veterans declined this life-saving procedure so far away from home.
The final paragraph in the article states “But from problems with suicide hotlines, to long wait times, to backlogged claims, to refusals for service, our veterans can’t wait any longer.” I fully agree with this statement, as would VA employees, but I am also aware that the decisions that would eliminate these problems are not decisions made by the medical staff, claims staff or non-management staff, all who would more likely to suffer under the proposed legislation.
Let’s not allow our Congressional or Executive branches to “throw the baby out with the bath water.”
Mary A. Curtis is a psychiatric clinical nurse specialist who retired from the VA six years ago after 21 years of employment. She has been working since then for small mental health clinics in the Treasure Valley.