Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Ongoing Veterans Affairs disaster makes me glad I stayed away

I have been riveted to the current scandal to hit the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Although I have never had to avail myself of its services, I do have a number in case I need medical care at the VA hospital in St. Petersburg. Of course, my priority is pretty low, being a non-combat veteran who served for four years in peacetime, but when I was unemployed it was a great comfort to know that I might eventually get medical care if I needed it.

Fortunately, I found jobs that offered health insurance, so the envelope from the VA sits in the cabinet.

But when I was unemployed, there were friends of mine who suggested that I try to land a job at a Veterans Affairs hospital, but while I did do searches for positions, I was hesitant to even put my name forward. For one thing, the U.S. government’s jobs website is a mess, and the application process is a bureaucratic nightmare. Landing a newspaper job isn’t easy, either, but it’s nowhere near as convoluted as getting the most basic federal government job.

One of my big fears regarding in particular the VA and generally the rest of the federal government was the work environment. I would read horror stories from federal employees about their workplaces, and think to myself, “That’s like the post office, only worse.”

Believe me, in my 11 years and five months of Postal Service employment – from January 1983 to December 1985 in Garden City, N.Y., and from January 1986 to June 1994 in West Palm Beach, Fla. – I saw things, especially in the latter location, that made me want to escape from there as quickly as I could.

I did escape, by attending college from August 1998 to April 1994, leaving with a four-year degree that opened countless doors of opportunity for me. I quit the Postal Service happily and vowed never to work for a government agency again.

When you hear about secret appointment lists at VA facilities, you might wonder why no one would openly report such things. Well, the reason is simple: because employees in the federal government know that the penalty for whistleblowing, even if it’s proven, is the end of your employment at the agency and your career anywhere else in government. Despite promises of no retaliation, retaliation begins almost as soon as the whistleblowing complaint is filed.

One of my mentors from West Palm Beach, a retired business executive, was in charge of volunteers at the Riviera Beach VA hospital, and I’ll never forget what he told me about that place. He said he was glad he didn’t depend on the place for a paycheck because if you worked there, really cared about the veterans and tried to make a career of it, the top brass and the top administrator would destroy you. The brass hated the volunteers because they couldn’t control them or intimidate them, he said.

Go to a federal office and look at the posters on the wall. People in the know anywhere – including the Postal Service – know calling the Inspector General of their agency will lead to the destruction of their life. I personally knew better than to report anything to the almost brutally corrupt Postal Inspection Service and later the Inspector General.

Anyone who worked in the postal facility in the 1980s and early 1990s knew there was stuff going on that should have been reported. Mail was run through machinery repeatedly to “get the numbers up,” tens and sometimes hundreds of locked and sealed trailers full of bulk mail were left in staging yards and mail presorted by carrier route was often broken up and resorted (despite postal discounts and the presorting needed to avoid higher postal costs) to make the numbers higher.

A postal facility in the Midwest in the early 1990s won the Postmaster General’s award for being the most productive. I remember going in on my own time to see the film that was made about Marvin Runyon’s visit to the place and speech he gave. A few months later, it was revealed that managers of the facility had used “postal math” in reporting mail volune: 1 million pieces of mail plus 1 million pieces of mail equals 3 billion pieces of mail, or something to that effect.

Of course, none of the managers got a serious punishment.

As in the Postal Service, in the VA managers are “rewarded” with promotions for incompetence, brutality and playing games with appointments. It’s a tragedy that Gen. Eric Shinseki is going to have to lose his job over this. As several media outlets have noted, the VA needs a leader who is going to crack heads and fire people, not wait for reports and talk about how dedicated he is to the needs of veterans.

It took retirees who are insulated now from the reprisals and retaliation that the VA brass would unleash to reveal the extent of what was going on. Just as retirees and ex-postal workers like myself talk about the corruption of the facilities I worked at, retirees and ex-VA workers know the inside scoop on what happened, and are becoming unafraid to tell what they know.

Unfortunately, in the Postal Service the top brass got more pay and government-paid transfers for their crimes and misconduct. The cynicism of the postal workforce can be illustrated by two incidents I recall.

In one, shortly after the shootings in Edmond, Okla., an inspection service report on the environment at postal facilities noted that while there were all these motivational posters on the walls of postal facilities, nobody believed them, or believed that reporting a postal crime would have any effect except to bring down retaliation and reprisals.

In West Palm Beach one time, the postmaster general appeared on a poster with the following feel-good phrases:

“You have the right to be treated with respect at work.”

“You have the right to have your supervisor show you respect.”

Someone had written in a marker, between the words “You” and “have,” the word “don’t.”

Just as most people in Postal Service management were then and are now mindless bureaucratic time-servers counting the days until their next paycheck or promotion, the leaders at the Department of Veterans Affairs, many of whom could not have been bothered to serve in the military – even in peacetime – are just collecting their six-figure salaries and waiting to move up to the next-higher position.

All this hullaballoo about waiting lists will die down after a few top people and political appointees are chopped off, and then the next group of VA bureaucrats will assume their positions, and the atrocities will continue.

And that’s why the VA isn’t worth my time and talents, just like the Postal Service wasn’t worth my time and talents back in the day.


May 18, 2014 - Posted by | Life lessons, Politics | , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. The VA is in the midst of a serious scandal. The VA has been selling Veterans a raw
    Deal. Here is another scandal yet to be exposed. The VA promised veterans a preference for certain jobs.Then in 1998, the VA expanded preference under VEOA.
    What the VA does is turn down veterans who apply for positions within the VA.(usa as unqualified. What the VA does is put forth a list of qualifications and if you do not repeat in your resume word for word, verbatim, they disqualify you.

    If you do list the qualifications verbatim they refuse to use the VA list and hire their own minions through a merit system that does not use preference. The VA will tell veterans with preference if you want a job, volunteer and get hired under the merit system.There is no preference under the merit system. Veterans are being ripped off. Here is what is happening to me right now.

    Dear Sir; I applied for the mail supervisor position at the St. Louis
    record center.Vacancy Id 1106373 GS 0305-07. Don Woolbright
    qualification (07) I was notified that I qualified for the position and
    Was at the top of the list I also receive an additional 10 points.
    Veterans preference

    I then received another notice stating the hiring office decided to not
    Use this certificate at the series and grade level listed. The hiring
    agency listed 3 reasons why I was being denied veterans preference

    Hiring office may choose not to use veterans preference certificate
    1.They have chosen to not fill the vacancy at this time.
    2.Chosen to fill the vacancy through another type of certificate ( i.e
    merit promotion)
    3. Chose to fill the vacancy using a certificate at one of the other
    Grade levels listed in the agency.

    The Veterans Employment Opportunity Act (VEOA) of 1998 Allows a veteran =
    Such as myself to file a complaint. I am requesting your assistance to =
    Allow a qualified veteran with preference to be awarded this position.
    Additionally, veterans separated from the armed forces under honorable =
    conditions after 3 years or more of active service may not be denied the
    opportunity to compete for vacant positions for which the agency making
    the announcement will accept applications from individuals outside its
    Own workforce under merit promotion procedures. Preferences would not
    apply in hiring under merit promotion procedures
    Don Woolbright
    10 Benton Court
    O Fallon Mo 63368

    Comment by Don Woolbright | May 18, 2014 | Reply

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