Positive Feedback

All this talk of reform Monday got me thinking about the art of differentiation and how veterans can help reform VA in a way most of us don’t think of when we are fired up.

I am going to get a little heat for what I am about to say, but I think it needs to be part of our dialogue as individual veterans collectively working to fix VA as customers.

One tool we could use to help reform VA may also help us mold the behavior of future VA employees future veterans come in contact with. That tool is positive reinforcement used strategically.

Positive reinforcement provides an opportunity for veterans to give constructive feedback that differentiates the good VA employees from the bad VA employees rather than merely lumping all VA employees into the “bad” category.

VA would do well to create a customer service portal where veterans can email in direct feedback about VA employees, good and bad, that would intake the information, process it, and create a path for improving employee adherence to iCare values.

Now for my disclaimer.

Okay, as one of the loudest critics of VA and its employment practices, there is no doubt what I am about to say will put off some readers. No one can deny VA has loads of problems, least of all me: a disabled veteran with a 15-year disability compensation fight forced by numerous agency errors.

I did not bump my head. I am not high on drugs while writing this.

I am stone sober and really believe the positive reinforcement model should be a part of how we, as self-advocates, assist VA in reforming how its employees treat veterans.

Said another way, this positive reinforcement model is not a “fix all” for VA, but it is one small step along with other steps veterans can take to rebuild the agency that is responsible for helping us after our military service is complete.

Let me explain and follow that up with a recent example.

Behind The Positive Strokes Reinforcement Model

Three years ago, former Under Secretary Allison Hickey opened up a dialogue with me about her employees. Knowing I was about to lodge a complaint, she first asked me if I had anything positive to say about any of the services I received.

I provided my feedback to her at the time, both good and bad.

At that time, at least one VA employee engaged in what is technically known as a fraudulent misrepresentation involving one of my claims that was fixed later by another employee after I raised holy hell.

You can imagine as an attorney trained by the VA School of Hard Knocks; I do not take kindly to federal employees making knowingly false statements about me or my clients.

Anyway, I took a minute before launching into my tirade to highlight the employee who helped right the ship, so to speak, and have thought about Hickey’s Positive Strokes initiative ever since.

Why Provide Positive Feedback?

Why should veterans injured financially or physically by VA make a point to highlight positive acts by VA employees?

The answer is simple. It gives us an opportunity to mold VA behavior around the behavior types we appreciate and away from behavior types that do not resonate with veterans.

By providing structured, positive feedback, we have a chance to mold VA culture, at least a little.

Here is what I am not talking about, though.

I am not talking about surveys.

We all know VA takes mountains of surveys and pay survey companies handsomely for the service. But I have noticed, as have many of you, that those who are surveyed always seem to give feedback as if they worked for one of The Big 6 veteran organizations.

You know the type – – folks who would never dare say a negative thing about VA or anyone in a white coat.

That does not describe me and I assume it does not describe you.

Instead of surveys, I am talking about us veterans writing short but detailed accounts of what mattered most when we interfaced with a VA employee.

Now, the same holds true for negative feedback, but I want veterans to remember we also have power by providing positive feedback, too.

Below is an example of what happened recently with a VA employee in a Vocational Rehabilitation claim. During the first meeting with the new counselor after the veteran was forced to wait one year while a previous counselor made mistakes administering the claim.

Sample VocRehab Counselor Feedback

The Vocational Rehabilitation counselor was:

  1. knowledgeable about the program my client sought benefits for, VRE self-employment services;
  1. thoughtful regarding what my client was attempting to accomplish;
  1. prepared by conducting research BEFORE the meeting to better understand my client’s business concept;
  1. probing, but gentle, in asking questions about my client’s disabilities without making him feel apprehensive;
  1. thorough in her explanation of the new M28R policy guidance that she had reviewed before the meeting;
  1. kind and patient in her communications with my client (and me)…

This all surprised me given the majority of my interactions with counselors in the same program. But, I want to qualify that statement in that most claims I deal with have already gone sideways due to an error or a bad employee meaning I do not have many interactions with the best counselors.

Nonetheless, because I was surprised, in a good way, I sent an email to VA leadership and asked them to thank her for doing such a good job.

The information I provided was received and the respective employee received a thank you email from VA leadership.

This is a good thing.

(I plan to write about why each of these six points was important to highlight for counselors in the Vocational program later.)

Feedback Structure

The above feedback was structured, quick to read, and it obviously highlights the positive behavior and implicitly reveals problems with the normative behavior.

I am not clear what model VA is working to create that will allow veterans to provide constructive feedback about employee interactions, but I hope they put it up soon.

Even if VA still does not want something so concrete, we will create one here to keep the public informed about which employees are doing a great job and which are not.

Next Steps

We were all in the military at one point or another. And we all received feedback during that time and during civilian employment.

Through either process, what worked and what did not? What kind of feedback loop could VA create that would be most effective from your perspective?

If you tried to provide positive feedback before but feel it backfired, what happened?

Right now, most veterans file complaints with VA OIG that go nowhere, especially since OIG does not investigate benefits claims problems.

VA ethics offices are supposed to help.

Check out 38 CFR § 0 to review the few ethics regulations VA employees are supposed to follow. The iCare framework also provides key points VA employees are supposed to follow.

Outside of these channels, we veterans are left sending feedback directly to Secretary David Shulkin’s inbox, which he honestly has no time to read given the volume.

I hear what you’re saying. I tried that with some agency employees and they took my kindness for weakness. I’d complement them on things they said/did, etc…and still, they would make snide remarks about me in passing and set me up. See, IMO, when you’re dealing with people who don’t care, who are selfish, insecure and who are down right evil – positive reinforcement is going to have them laughing at you and will destroy your credibility when you have… Read more »
This is be positive day on the blog! Maybe a better way to frame your comment would be to say something nice about their appearance? As for me, I think that most VA employees would look absolutely GREAT in a pair of handcuffs. Add in a pair of legging chains and a complete orange jumpsuit ensemble and I think you might be surprised at how nice that looks! It is definately worth a try and JUST MIGHT have a real… Read more »

Crimes against humanity by the VA, church, state, corporate, big pharma, banksters, scientists, academia, debt slavery, perpetual war for profit, injustice, and genocide controlled by rich and powerful psychopaths who have to spy on everyone for fear of a ‘too big to fail’ rebellion

Mr. James Franklin Moore, Sr.
ThisVet2017, thank you for your words cause those would have been mine too…. I’ve dealt with them since 1970/or 1971, and was told every lie in the book about not being able to find my military records…. I have been used as a lab-rat for all kind’s of pills, and today. I could have filled all kinds of law suits…. I have talked down too, yelled at from Northport VHA, Brooklyn Bronx, Manhattan, all the down too North Carolina… I… Read more »
Ex va
I understand your idea of positive reinforcement and i really prefer to be positive than to be negative in life because of the character of person that i want to be. If a Veteran is to do this type of positive reinforcement i would suggest that a copy be sent to that individual in a separate envelope with the va medical center address with attention in corner of the individual name. That way the good employee could attach this good… Read more »
Let’s talk about theories. A theory is an idea based upon known facts and a logical progessive argument that arrives at a conclusion that frankly cannot be known until a “proof” is provided. Once a theory has been proven out, it becomes fact. Sometimes we are really stuck with just the theory because the “proof” eludes the great thinkers. I believe that your supposition that a culture can change has indeed been proven out. After all, men are created equal… Read more »
Agreed. Send a copy to the VA employee you’re praising. In my case (at the wonderful Atlanta Regional Office), I literally had veterans ask me for my name, fill out a survey card and deposit it in the survey box (right in front of my own eyes). Until this day, the VA has not provided me with that positive feedback. The head of that department – she’s the one who appears to review what goes in that survey box and… Read more »
The only positive re- enforcement the VA needs is that you will tell them fuck tards to cut their bullshit out, they have killed, maimed and defrauded our brothers and sisters. You can’t be a brotherhood and have the VA demoralize you by having your manhood tucked between your legs, dressed as a little fairy blowing kisses and shit at them. These fuckheads need well placed bone salad to the face (a well placed punch) No time to back off… Read more »
Disgruntled Veteran

OOH-RAH Doc! Well said.

Ted Bundy was a very polite man. By all accounts Al Capone was clever and humorous and well liked by those who kept their blood inside. ISIS is a terrorist organization, but darn it anyway they have some damn fine kids. The IRS is full of people who ariticulate very well. The prison population in general is a socially active crowd that often makes a point to sit down every day to a group meal. As far as VA goes,… Read more »

Good try ben to make nice, but in my book there’s to much bad water that has already run under the bridge. The VA past the point of no return a long time ago. When the bad guys are winning the war and you try to be nice to keep from getting wiped out, I call that cowardice, and I have to live with ME. Back to the drawing board.


Just be nice to the Nazis and they will stop being Nazis, right? Remind me again, how did we deal with the Nazis?


@Dennis- I did read once if you lightly patted a Nazi’s helmet they would purr like a cat, but most humans would prefer that to be indeed a cat. Not a Nazi.


That ‘purr’ was soon to be mistaken for the rhythmic sounds of the machinegun meets flesh splat. Cats are much more kind, usually.

I tend to project as much positive energy and self-confidence with my own non-VA medical specialists for various reasons: 1) I had one of my specialist appointments a few months back and I was my usual self, trying to be upbeat about things and admittedly, a bit of a form of projection of the antithesis of how actually feeling, and unbeknownst to me, she expressed how much she and her staff appreciated me not only as a patient, BUT ALSO… Read more »

I agree with you about reacting to a patient taking ownership of their health condition, and becoming educated about it and asking questions.

I can’t tell you how many VA quacks I have run in to that seriously resent the hell out of some lowly veteran asking questions. They immediately become defensive as if you are questioning their capability and competence. And some times they are right.

Disgruntled Veteran
@Namnibor – – – Beautiful Post. Numbered items 2, 4, 5 and 8 were perfect. You can just bet that “the VA would find a way to spin that into a reduction of benefits for a Vet by stating, “all those brain drugs we have prescribed must be working, so you are ready to work again and thank you Vet, for letting the VA save some more $$ for bonuses!” is probably NOT as extreme or far-fetched as you might… Read more »

“[Fantastic Job Alert – One Unusual Way Veterans Can Help Mold VA Employees]”

VA employees are already pretty moldy from working in the third world cleanliness facilities. Usually Legionnaires.
Best way to “mold” them is Carbonite. 🙂

Off-Topic but relevant to Veterans: Morning news ‘CBS This Morning’ did a special detailed segment with -3- Active Duty Navy Seal Whistleblowers what wore all black cloths and clothes to disguise themselves because apparently, in the last 8 years under Pres. Obama the Navy Seals developed a thug and drug culture that’s so extreme it’s even higher than in it currently is in civilian epidemic of pills and heroin use…yes, heroin…in the fucking Navy Seals. Just LIKE the VA, the… Read more »
Crazy elf

In my opinion, being “nice” to VA employees, would be as to giving them a “Silver Spoon” to screw over a veteran.
In essence, to allow VHA and VBA employees to make the veteran out to be a fool. Especially, if the veteran were to ever bring a complaint against any of them!
They could say, “See, the veteran thinks our agency is greatly appreciated by him/her!”

That’s my opinion!


This is no time in Americas history to paint false smiles on our faces and pretend VA is not VA. The agency is infested with the worst America has to offer and besides a worm has no appreciation for anything other than the shit it crawls through.

this is my reply to ANutterVet on yesterdays remark of ……..OLDMARINE April 12, 2017 at 7:56 am ANutterVet April 11, 2017 at 5:05 pm @OLDMARINE – Geesh, you believe everything that is on the net. My, my, and I’ll see you a bridge in NY’s prime real estate market for cheap……………how can you make a remark about something without watching it or reading it ……. and i don’t need a bridge but if i did i would inspect it first…..… Read more »

and I should have added don’t judge a book by its cover


@OLDMARINE- I know I am an ugly dust-covered book on the outside but like many non-flashy books, I think my life makes a good read. Warts and all. 🙂


Take note. I’m getting cited a dam online ticket at Ben’s blog. I delete them all day long. LOL

Disgruntled Veteran

You deserve a damn ticket. You been AWOL from the Islands for far too long. LOL.


I know DV, and I’m missing it. Mind if I sleep on your lanai? Lanai = Porch.

Disgruntled Veteran

Shootz, Come.

Seymore Klearly
Personally I am on the other end of the spectrum. Following the treatment that I received at the VA and what is still going on today with other Vets at the VA. It my feelings about all VA employees reminds me some what of a Phil Collins song with a few alterations. If I knew someone worked for the VA and was drowning, I would not lend a hand I’ve seen their faces before my friend, and I know that… Read more »
Seymore Klearly
That includes Joseph Chenelly, National Executive Director of AMVETS who trolled us last Thursday. The further I dig into AMVETS the clearer it is that they are nothing but organized crime. The majority of their claimed 250,000 members are not even Veterans. Their primary charities have received “F” ratings. A large number of their post have been busted for drug rings, racketeering, money laundering and pedophilia. If you have any doubts just google “Money Laundering AMVETS ” or “racketeering AMVETS”.… Read more »
Seymore Klearly

Oh and the officers at the AMVETS posts don’t even have to be Veterans.

@OLDMARINE – Go visit where my ancestors were murdered. I still got that bridge, certified structurally safe. Interested now? Our beefs aren’t between each other, and I applaud you in getting your GED in 2 1/2 days. I use to help Veterans who dropped out to serve in getting their GED, and many of them had a hard time in obtaining that certificate [which now a Bachelors Degree is required]. Fortunately, you were one of them that had no problem.… Read more »
certified structurally safe. Interested now?…..NO I TRUST NOT A PIECE OF PAPER I WOULD HAVE TO INSPECT IT MYSELF FIRST….if i cant put a toll booth on it, its worthless to me anyway . but if you can get me a permit, and tell me which politician i have to pay off and how much.. and i would like a traffic count on it also. and do i have to hire union employees .and i do also have a degree… Read more »

@OLDMARINE – You too! Don’t take your meds and mow. LOL

Thos VA surveys the few I have filled out some w good comments others with bad as giving advise one can take 800mg of Celebrex a day NO ONE CANNOT! I wrote but yet when the VA puts out the total surveys it ever lists anything negative like whoever complies these survey take out all bad comments! To the point why fill out any survey’s anymore?? I put good remarks down have given “attaboys” but none that helps me or… Read more »
Jane, When they tagged me with a bullshit DBC flag, everytime I would check in for a visit the clerk who knew the score would cough into his hand and say “this is bullshit” so as to hide the words. Yet another, this a suicide prevention counsellor took me aside and said “You are getting railroaded.” Yet another actually did not disagree but said loudly so others could hear, “I find you to be loathsome and disgusting”, referring to the… Read more »
Got surprise call today! DBC Flag removed not official until I get the “letter!” The former Chief of Staff who retaliated when I sent the emails for help for pain to Wash DC VA Sec and others and local VA CoS kept doing DBC Flags out of retaliation and spite; until I went to one of the US Senators and said see you where CC: on the email! So the US Senators office told my local VA to knock off… Read more »
Don Avant

In the Permaculture world ( a way o farming and engaging with the world that is long time sustainable ) they believe in Positive Engagement…That is, instead of :”you screwed up and you better fix it right now and here’s what you better do to fix it”… try: I’ve got this problem…Can you help me out?…Here’s the problem and here’s what we may be able to do to fix it…”

*Off Topic* – Sean Spicer is a Gaffe. He is one of the most insensitive, narcissistic Republican Press Secretaries that has ever been in back of the podium. He stated that his comments about Hitler not using chemical weapons on Jewish people was reprehensible. Words mean something [reprehensible], and coming from his own mouth, Sean Spicer should be removed and replaced, immediately. POTUS needs to clean up his staff, and start being concerned about losing his base of those that… Read more »

I fully agree. Sean Spicer has the personable personality of an arsenic coated prickly pear cactus.


Ouch, you’d have to get that shoved down your throat with a dam medical ram rodder. Is the last word a word?


Thinking a much larger ouch and all it would require of him is to fall ass first right on top of it.

Disgruntled Veteran

Sean Spicer is a highly educated, brilliant, competent man. At least, according to his CV/Resume. Could have fooled me. For the last week, every time I have seen him doing a “WH Press Conference” or “Daily Brief” – – – he appears to have a few less marbles than the Village Idiot.

Wonder where he’ll be going next? He does not have much longer with the current administration.

I have a feeling the VA would black out the bad, and only the good would ever be seen again. When are they going to get it? The VA is a mess. This will be the third time I go to the VA Clinic. First time, they sent me to Birmingham. Second time, they send me to Birmingham. In those two visits, the clinician, took pain pills away, and PTSD meds away. Oh, and they know that I can’t get… Read more »
Off topic, but very interesting. USA Today has an article on Shulkin touting how he believes external competition is needed to drive change at the VA. He even mentions accountability and the VA being held accountable. “”https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/04/12/david-shulkin-veterans-affairs-transparent-health-wait-times/100323480/”” In the article, Shulkin mentions a new VA web site called access to care which gives statistics on wait times for various types of care, and whether same day access at the same hospital is available for certain types of care. It’s kind… Read more »
“[One other thought. I wonder if the VA is trying to get ahead of any quality of care database Ben is planning, or trying to cut off vareview dot net before that site becomes too popular.]” My initial thoughts as well, an evasive move to true accountability. Notice how quickly the VA can crap out new websites when there’s danger of it being done correctly elsewhere? The VA *never* moves quickly unless they are owed money or are threatened with… Read more »

The most telling thing about that article Nam was that Shulkin will be setting up that hotline.

Ex va
@@91Veteran, clinic wait times are manipulated and they can make them look efficient or meet criteria for funding by scheduling controlled by unethical doctors and scheduling managers. It is a scam, i know their methodology concerning scheduling. Shulkin obviously knows something is not right when comparable data of clinical performance is collected off the Veterans records there is a huge deficiency, the Veterans are not being seen or treated by providers/doctors, but the scheduling show doctors/providers clinics as being double… Read more »
I had a Veteran friend go to Birmingham VA, with a gall bladder infection. The Dr. There prepped him for heart surgery. He was screaming to let him go. He was shipped to another hospital and they removed his gall bladder. I’ve had two Veteran friends OD. Both died, the hospital said that they had pneumonia. I can’t think of one aspect of the VA that isn’t corrupt. We shall see about Dr. Shulkin and President Trump. I agree, too… Read more »

tried to complament a va employee once. called customer service after 45 minutes on the phone waiting to speak to someone…i gave up.


Well Ben, after reading the comments, it looks like Carrots 2, Sticks 35. Makes me want to break into a Roger’s and Hammerstein musical – Let’s try South Pacific. Everybody now

Happy talk, keep talkin’ happy talk,
talk about things you like to do
You got to have a dream
If you don’t have a dream
How you gonna have a dream come truuuuuuue.

Disgruntled Veteran
@Windguy – – – Always liked South Pacific. Ray Walston as “Luther Billis”, LOL. Here’s an old Cher song: If I could turn back time, If I could find some way I’d be the Bombadier, on the Enola Gay. We’d change our course, I’m headin’ for the BIG VA I’ll improve the lives, of a million vets today. The target draws near, it is the AFGE The AC calls, “DV – – You got weapons free” I watch the donut… Read more »
OK Dis, I’m the one who brought up a musical show tune – which – is teetering on the edges of being gay ‘n shit. My bad. But Cher? Really? Cher? I mean – that’s OK, if… you know…. you ahh – go that route. But – you should know – Village People, George (he daayd) Michael, and Cher are kinda off limits….. Now, I’m not really a homophobe. But, two decades ago by teens were bugging me about getting… Read more »
I agree. Letting the VA know what has worked gives them a idea of where to start in changing their behavior and practices. I liken it to my children and discipline…one child learns from my punitive discipline while another just shuts down altogether. That child responds better and does better when she knows what she is doing RIGHT and therefore she strives for that positive reinforcement. We’ve complained and complained…they know what is wrong but do they know what practices… Read more »
@Shannon, I also compare many of the VA employees to children. But, they are not children. They are full grown adults. They are callous. They are vindictive. They close their eyes to atrocities committed by their co workers and in too many incidents, they are committing the atrocity. Administration is stealing from the VA, taxpayers, at well over a billion a year. I know the VA would rather see many of us dead. My original claim goes back to 1999,… Read more »
I tried to share my positive experiences in both emergency services and my surgical outcomes and the people who made them possible. Ben, I know you can look back on my posts and see how I felt then and still do today. I was called a few things for telling the truth about my treatment at the VA. I would like to see a new path of communication for both the veterans and the people on the frontlines of their… Read more »
Benjamin and All: Breaking News: Washington D.C.. VA is under serious investigation and scrutiny for unsafe conditions and…all I just heard on news is that “…the VA facility had life-saving medical equipment REPOSSESSED FOR NON_PAYMENT and more….WTF? “[… hospital in Washington, D.C., is so unsafe and poorly managed that the agency’s internal watchdog issued an “immediate” warning to high-level agency officials on Wednesday. The “serious and troubling” findings included “dirty” storage conditions for sterile medical supplies, dangerous supply shortages and… Read more »
Crazy elf

You received more information than what was just broadcasted on ABC!


That’s why I wanted to quickly highlight fact they even had medical equipment go missing…repossessed, to be more accurate, dirty, infections, nothing sterile in medical storage, all dirty, mold…WTF VA?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Makes it even harder to kill them with kindness, right?

Ex va

@namnibor, repossessed medical equipment, hahahahahahahahahah!!!!!! A purchasing agent screwed up that one. LOLOLOLOL!!!!!!!!!! Stupidity at its finest!!!!!!!!! @MarionVA, Marion, Illinois they had approximately 6.4million, 10% savage value of 640,000 in missing medical center equipment, never mentioned in the news. This stuff happens all the time and it’s usually stolen by the employees.

Crazy elf


The VHA in Washington DC has now hit “World News with David Muir” on ABC.
It hit the airwaves at approximately 6:45 pm est!
(Google it, to see the whole story)

Seems the staff was using outdated medical equipment and a bunch more things.
The director was “…relieved from duty!”
The “article” was about 30 to 45 seconds long!


@Crazy elf- We were riding the same thought wave again. Link is up there.

Kind of great they are taking immediate action to this ongoing cesspool of a VA in our Nation’s Capital.