COL Mrozinski: 10-Point Plan to Restore Confidence in U.S. Department of Veterans AffairsPosted by chris on Oct 30, 2012
The 2012 Presidential election year has clearly highlighted the indifference and neglect of the Obama Administration towards our nation’s active duty, veterans and their families. This administration has sent mixed signals not only to the military and the veterans, but to The Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) personnel trying to determine what the priorities are. Our Federal employees can no longer work under very difficult conditions of financial mismanagement and lack of oversight that has constricted responsiveness to our nation’s veterans.
The 2012 Republican Party Platform provides us with a positive azimuth and a blue print for addressing or nations challenges (http://www.gop.com/2012-republican-platform_home/) while fulfilling our national promise of support to those who volunteered and sacrificed their dreams and hopes to serve America. In contrast, the Obama Administration has offered eleventh hour campaign rhetoric in addressing VA efficiencies for what they have known to be deficient for nearly four years.
Let’s take a look at some of the key burgeoning issues and solutions encompassed in the following 10-point plan. By address the current VA challenges with the goal of reducing the staggering claims backlog, we will begin working together to restore faith and responsiveness in our veteran system.
- Vision and Morale Compass Check. President Romney conducts an initial real-time national VA Town Hall meeting via teleconferencing, Call –to listen number and/or Home computer/work station log-in. The President of the United States shares his vision and priorities for the way ahead while embracing, thanking and challenging each and every VA employee personally to reduce the claims backlog, reduce waste and refocus our efforts on caring for our nations veterans. The President also introduces the new VA Secretary and challenges VA personnel to make recommendations on where greater efficiency can be achieved and service to our veterans strengthened. This will send a clear message that it is a privilege to serve our nations veterans and do our part to make a positive impact in the lives of so many Americans.
- Top-To-Bottom Review of Department of Veterans Affairs to determine where we are and where we need to be: Establish and restore pride in a career of dedication to our service men and women; Engage VA personnel and leadership in identifying where the financial and material waste is and where we have not been paying enough attention; Prioritize need and fix the claims backlog; Publish set VA wide goals and set bench marks and subsequent milestones to achieve success with the intent of being part of one of the most efficient agencies within the U.S. Government; Ensure that the VA hospitals and the employees working in them have the tools available to process and care for the most vulnerable of our veterans who are in need of immediate care. We are losing veterans by the day due to the long wait and bureaucratic red tape……..there is no excuse. The review will include a look at every VA regulation that competes against the other and often cost us dearly in wasted tax dollars due to unnecessary and redundant duplication of effort.
- Increase Communication between DOD and VA. Both DOD and VA are federal agencies that should no longer compete against one another or questioning the initial DOD medical determination of discharge competency/disability, which arguably underlies the VA claims backlog conundrum. Cooperation in reviewing any and all competing and prohibitive inter-agency regulations, which are unnecessary, will be addressed as well. The abrupt decoupling of “Care” for our nations service members departing active duty and filing a claim has created a needless void that places our veterans in jeopardy back in their communities as they patiently try to manage exciting disabilities due to service and await the care they were promised. Addressing this issue addresses an underlining National Security issue. For example, military retirees are subject to recall up to the age of sixty-years. To assure a sound recall status in a national emergency, it is imperative the retiree is fit to fight as well as the discharged service member/veteran who is placed in Individual ready Reserve (IRR) for a period of years. We must bridge the gap between DOD discharge and VA hand-off, it is that simple.
- Address Budget Overruns. Mandate that all approving officials within VA will sign off on budget overruns that exceed the current Consumer Price Index (CPI). Current VA rules call for leadership to sign off on budget overruns of more than 5%. Replace this method with the current CPI used by the federal government under current law to trigger Cost Of Living Allowance adjustments (COLA) for federally retired employees, Medicare and Social Security recipients. Such an approach will remind us of the economic constraints and measures we must take to minimize waste and maximize effect of every federal tax dollar, which is intended to support veteran initiatives and provide a track towards regaining fiscal responsibility.
- Reduce the Daunting Disability Claims Backlog. Currently, active duty personnel who submit disability claims before their discharge date are guaranteed that their case will be addressed within a 180 day period. Often times that translates into contact from VA via mail to start the formal process at or near the 180 day deadline and very often waiting for private out sourced medical niches to see the veteran and “RE-valuate” the malady months later. By embedding VA personnel within the DOD system at the out processing centers to screen the files of discharging service members will reduce the “in-basket” load excuses. This will reduce delaying classification of potential disability claims and assign a priority code of need to ensure quicker processing and making a “safety net “of financial resources or care available to existing veterans much sooner.
- Reduce Duplication of Effort and the current VA practice of using multiple methods of payment to procure goods and services when contracting. In addition, VA must increase the use of strategic sourcing which focuses on bulk purchases, and requires VA to commit to using one contract for specific office goods or delivery of services. This will increase supplier competiveness and reduce or eliminate different prices for the same service or product. Currently, the private sector has succeed in sourcing information technology, infrastructure management and technical services by watching the bottom-line…we can do no less.
- Revaluate VA Employee Resources Based Need. The local VA Regional Offices require additional employees or a reprioritizing of resource effort. The back log for NEW service connected claims right now is reported to be 18 to 20 months in Atlanta alone for a brand new claim, despite what the data shows. Talking to real statistical individual Veterans and their families throughout Georgia over the last few years tells a much different story. Even simple tasks like adding a dependent takes over a year in most cases.
- The Fiduciary System for Incompetent VA Claimants Needs an Overhaul. Right now regulations require VA to sit on a claim for 60 days after an award has been made and incompetency “proposed” to see if the claimant will disagree with the decision. A good number of times the claimant will pass away before back pay funds are released due to the stalled-out fiduciary process. The next of kin is NOT eligible to receive all those funds that were intended for the deceased claimant. The bottom line is all VA Regional Offices should NOT have to hold a veteran’s file for 60 days waiting for a response from the claimant before they turn the file over to the field examiner in the Fiduciary Unit. It would speed things up if that one step of the process could be eliminated. Institute a by-pass around having to add that 90-120 days for back pay funds to be released. For example, the fiduciary offices in Atlanta needs approximately two dozen more field examiners whether temporary or permanent to handle the backlog. Too many veterans and widows are dying across America before their back pay is released to a veteran payee. VA will not release funds to an incompetent person. They must go through a complex legal process to set up a payee and then release funds. VA does NOT reimburse all funds due a deceased claimant to veteran’s adult children or the estate despite costs incurred for care of a vetted claimant, VA “KEEPS’ the funds
- The Pension Centers Need More Employee Resources. It takes approximately 14 to 18 months to have medical expenses updated and reimbursed to a veteran claimant. There are currently only three pension centers that process “non service” connected pensions (Philadelphia, Milwaukee and St. Paul). Depending on where the veteran lives within the U.S., the pension center will handle the claim. Their VA mission is focused on DIC (service connected widow’s benefits) and non-service connected pension. It was originally intended to lessen the work load in the local Regional Offices, but it has been utilized for other purposes.
- Address Issue of Outdated or Obsolete Reference Material and contact information that creates confusion and disenchantment amongst our veteran population. Stream line the information available. Provide a downloadable business card with local contact information and hotline numbers to include reporting fraud and abuse of veterans in assisted living homes and under fiduciary care. Provide FAST TRACK access to veteran information to bolster veteran confidence in the system?
COL. Lawrence G. Mrozinski (RET.) USA
GAGOP Veteran Outreach Chair