MMQB: Benjamin Krause Called On By VA To Fix Backlog

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130415 MMQB Naval Academy In Annapolis

Hi and thanks for checking in this for this week’s Monday Morning Quarterback after my trip to Annapolis and the Naval Academy.

This is where I get to let it all hang out and tell it like it is.

This week, I am fortunate enough to be in Washington DC. Rumor has it that the VA desperately needs to fix the backlog. I have volunteered by time and money to fly to DC to help.

This MMQB covers:

  • VA Stats – what it could mean to fix the backlog, in dollars
  • VA Email Leaked To Washington Examiner: Benjamin Krause listed as one of a few people outside the VA who can help fix the backlog
  • Dinner with the Johnsons: I met with the former Secretary of the GSA to talk about the VA backlog crisis

Please comment below this post if you have any questions you would like me to ask Under Secretary Allison Hickey about the VA backlog. I have a meeting with her on Tuesday.

I will also be meeting with former Director of Vocational Rehabilitation Ruth Fanning on Wednesday. Ruth is now heading the VA / DoD TAPS program for military members transitioning to civilian life.

As this endeavor develops – by endeavor I mean this website and other social media actions against the VA on behalf of veterans – it appears clear that we are developing an “intelligence network.”

You guys write to me about issues. I aggregate the data and talk with the VA and Congress about ways to fix the problems. That said, I want to thank all of you for reading and writing to me. This helps all of us fix the system so that it actually functions as it should.

 

VA Statistics – VA Needs Another $13.8 Billion If Backlog Is Fixed Overnight

Every week, I try to find some interesting stat on the VA and some relevant benefits disbursement.

Since I am going to talk with Under Secretary Hickey on Tuesday, I decided to figure out whether or not the VA could “afford” to fix the backlog overnight.

Here is what I mean. What would it mean in dollars if the VA adjudicated all pending claims overnight? Here is the data we need to know:

  • Number of pending claims: 900,000
  • Average disability claim payout: $700
  • Number of months claims are pending: 10

That said, now we can find out how much more money the VA would need in its budget to afford to fix the backlog with just one swipe of a pen – the signing of Secretary Eric Shinseki’s name to approve all claims on a temporary basis.

Here is the cost:

  • Total cost of payout every month: $630,000,000
  • Total cost of backpay: $6,300,000,000
  • Total amount of funding for the year: $13.86 billion

So, if the backlog was fixed overnight, it would cost the VA over $13 billion. I would like you to ask yourself if you believe the budget from the White House covers this. If it does not, then you know VA is not planning on a fix coming this year.

 

VA Under Secretary Calls Out Benjamin Krause As Big Brain Person

The Washington Examiner leaked an email from Under Secretary Allison Hickey to her colleagues. The subject of the email was “Backlog BIG Ideas Meeting.”

The meeting is to pull in both VA insiders and VA outsiders to help fix the backlog. Here is what Mark Flatten of the Washington Examiner wrote about the email:

“A “big brain” group of government executives, union representatives and private sector experts is needed to come up with a plan to quickly end the bureaucratic logjam that forces veterans to wait months to have their disability benefits claims processed, a top Department of Veterans Affairs official says in a high-priority email obtained by The Washington Examiner.

Allison Hickey, undersecretary for benefits at the VA, said in the March 30 plea to more than 20 senior executives at VA that she needs ideas fast. Pressure is mounting on the agency to end the delays in processing claims, which take an average of about 10 months and in some areas more than a year.

“I am seeking your assistance to bring together in a very rapid fashion a group of brilliant and experienced thinkers from inside and outside VA to put everything on the table for ideas we can do to eliminate the backlog in short order,” Hickey wrote. “I need to do this very quickly so I am reaching out to you because I believe you and Jonah can help me access some of the ‘big brain’ folks in short order. I would like to do this meeting as soonest (sic) as possible (in the next week or two).”

“Jonah” apparently refers to Jonah Czerwinski, director of the VA Center for Innovation.

The kind of “big idea” people Hickey has in mind include representatives of the American Federation of Government Employees, the union which represents many VA employees, insurance industry leaders, people working at think tanks and “anyone else you can think to add that will bring fresh creativity to this position.”

Following the publication of the email, some still criticized Under Secretary Hickey for her email. To these folks, I would like to ask them to eat a big dose stop looking at this as the glass being half empty. This is a good move by Hickey.

The Under Secretary is reaching out to outsiders from what the email reads. This is a great thing and could be just what the doctor ordered. We need to see this process through.

However, Hickey and Secretary Shinseki have been badgered as of late to step down because they were not able to waive a magic wand to fix the VA’s malingering problems. My concern with them stepping down is that the federal government does a horrible job of succession planning. It could send the system into a downward spiral.

If these two people step down, the backlog will surely get worse because it will take forever to find agreeable replacements. And, once they are found, it will take them a while to come up to speed.

To Under Secretary Hickey, thank you for the shout out and including me in your list of people who could help. Reaching out to veterans like me is a great step.

Here is the Hickey email in its entirety from the Washington Examiner:

From: Hickey, Allison (EX), VBAVACO

Sent: Saturday, March 30, 2013 8:20 AM

To: Snyder, Robert (SES); Czerwinski, Jonah (SES)

Cc: Giddens, Gregory (SES) VACO; Riojas, Jose (EX); Buchanan, Richard (SES), VBAVACO; Phelan, Leo

(SES), VBAVACO; Mittelstaedt, Lois (SES), VBAVACO; Rubens, Diana (SES), VBAVACO; Kammerer, Jack

(SES); Murphy, Thomas (SES) VBAVACO; Jacobs, Janice (SES), VBAVACO; McLenachen, David (SES),

VBAVACO; McCoy, Beth, (SES) VBASTL; Holly, Christopher, VBAVACO; Tickner, Lucas, VBAVACO;

Daugherty, Michael, VBAVACO; Miesemer, Ronald, VBAVACO; Sowers, Tommy (EX); Mooney, Joan (EX);

Petzel, Robert A., M.D. (EX); Cross, Gerald M. (SES EQV); Muro, Steve L. (EX); Reynolds, Robert (SES),

VBAVACO

Subject: Backlog BIG Ideas Meeting

Importance: High

Bob, Jonah,

I am seeking your assistance to bring together in very rapid fashion a group of brilliant and experienced thinkers from inside and outside VA to put everything on the table for ideas we can do to eliminate the backlog in short order.

I need to do this very quickly so I am reaching out to you because I believe you and Jonah can help me access some of the “big brain” folks in short order.

I would like to do this meeting as soonest as possible (in the next week or two). Rich Buchanan and his staff will be my point lead in VBA for organization and logistics.

I offer as suggestion only but defer to your thoughts for “big idea” kinds of people:

    • persons from all Administrations and OPIA, OCLA, OPP, OGC
    • Staff from 4 comers with Joan’s permission
    • AFGE reps
    • Craig Newmark plus others he would recommend
    • Industry leaders in Insurance, Workers Compensation, Supply Chain Management
    • Think Tank
    • Anyone else you can think to add that will bring fresh creativity to this problem
    • Some Veterans who are openly critical of our process and willing to offer ideas to fix it (Benjamin Krause types)
    • VSOs including IA VA, Paul Sullivan and Aaron Glantz

I will give you my resources and complete attention to this request.

Thank you,

Allison

As you can read, she is obviously trying to pull this together for a win. I think the leak was intended to embarrass the VA given the spin Flatten put on the article. It seems to imply that Hickey’s “call out” from the email is too little too later.

From my perspective, I think this is a case of “better late than never.”

 

Dinner With The Johnsons – Annapolis, MD

130415 MMQB Naval Academy 2I had the great pleasure last night to catch dinner with Steve and Martha Johnson just steps away from the Naval Academy.

For those of you who do not remember, Martha Johnson resigned after it surfaced that GSA employees scheduled an $800, 000 conference, which was dwarfed when compared to the VA’s $100 million conference-gate that surfaced a year later.

Like Martha, her husband Steve is a great thinker. When combined, the couple had some helpful input on how to fix the VA backlog and what the problems probably are. I will write more about their input in a couple weeks.

Here is the Cliff’s Notes version:

Steve believes we need to rethink our approach to problems and the government in light of our current collapsing economy and environmental ecosystem. He posted a website called Integrity at Scale.

He believes we should apply a business approach to our country in the similar way that companies do evaluations of themselves and the competition.

This way, we could assess investments into assets in a way that the government currently does not. Our ability, as a collective country, to then assess how the health of our nation is would be exponentially more powerful.

This approach could also be applied to the VA. During this sequestration, it is imperative that we spend the money we do have in a wise and effective manner.

With all the problems of the VA, how can Secretary Shinseki and Under Secretary Hickey assess their programs to know where spending will give them the most bang for their buck?

Without adequate analysis and valuations, there is really no way to know what works best to diminish the backlog or to create software systems.

Instead, without proper analysis, these leaders are forced to throw mud at a wall hoping it sticks.

Meanwhile, Martha had a lot of great insight from her own experience as the Secretary of the GSA (the GSA manages all the government’s properties including the White House). She was also the Chief of Staff of the GSA prior to taking it over, meaning that she knows how things really work within the government.

Beyond VA issues, we talked for a bit about her recent book. She just published a new book called, “In Our Midst.” I haven’t read it yet since I just got an autographed copy last night, but I thought I’d mention it here for any of my readers who are interested in the Gay & Lesbian movement within the military.

Here is what the book is about:

“Stanton, Indiana, in 1990, is a town in which people love their kids, joke with their mayor, attend church, and support the Wood Carving Festival. But, one boy is growing up with a secret that he unknowingly shares with another son of the community, a soldier in the Korean War who died the day he came home. “In Our Midst” is general interest fiction that exposes the raw vein of homophobia in our society.

The book involves an ensemble cast of sympathetic characters who are recognizable to all of us. The nuanced writing, staccato events, and multi-layer plot keep the reader fending off interruptions and turning the pages.

The LGBT community, the faith community, parents, mentors, teachers, and teens will find “In Our Midst” of particular value but it is the general public that will find satisfaction in a good yarn that suddenly means so much more.”

Anyway, the dinner with the Johnsons was fantastic and the conversation was lively. Take a look at his website to see what you think might help make the United States of America great again through this period of renewal.

 

Agent Orange Research

On that note, I am heading off to research Agent Orange from the Alvin L. Young Collection today. Young was the lead researcher for the government and the chemical industry.

Some of the documents are online, however most are not. For that reason, I scheduled a special visit to review the collection.

I’ll keep you posted on what I learn.

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10 Comments

  1. Fantastic article. How about VA starts a career development path for claims specialists? Get individuals in at the entry level and train them to be specialists (GS-11). A two-grade level career development program would be a useful and enticing recruiting tool and help to retain quality employees. Recruit those with a HR background might be useful. Those HR who do staffing would likely have an easy transition and also bring diversity into this career field.

  2. The VA like most government agencies needs to clean house. By that I mean getting people who have been in the system well past retirement requirements out, and bring in some fresh faces. I am of the opinion that the VA, on the local and national level, needs to get rid of half their administrators and replace them with more doctors and nurses. From a patients perspective it seems that there are people within the VA who cannot or will not think outside the box and are stuck in the old ways. That is what I think is clogging up the system.

    • To J. Clarkson: The VA is already having a problem recruiting new MD’s and nurses and there is a national shortage as well

  3. This sounds as is if there is a fictional twang to it. First of all you are dealing with a “lot” who gets paid great money for creating a stasis of benefits for millions – this isn’t just a stasis for disability ratings, but every VA program is a joke with respect to the fact – program benefits for the veterans are always in stasis, never working despite being “fixed”.

    The supervenience of reality is what is harmful to the VA, so there are two things I see by what you are writing, either the VA sees you as another “crazy” person or for some strange reason you have been encouraged to meet a group of government workers that are hated on both national/international platforms of health – welfare – education – social science – government – veteran populations & public citizenry.

    Ben, question … what is so unique about hanging out with the most cryptic and counterfactual government workers of Washington? [reference is not to the Johnsons but to the VA people]

    Who hungers to hang out with a bunch of criminals who pretend the needs of veterans are inscrutable, as a law student the law can be viewed in two ways, rational theory of law [with teeth] and strict scrutiny. Everyone who you have name dropped [VA employees] religiously has practiced inscrutability both as a utilitarian of a phony agency and surely for the personalized goals of a selfish – self serving grotesquely misrepresented and misinterpreted “greater good”.

    The proxy function of the VA is broken, the people who ran the “shit” into the ground are fantasists, period. Ben, on a lighter note my stepfather was a publisher, his name was Ben too. Ben Sonnenberg was his full name and his literary magazine can be remembered as “Grand Street”, Grand Street had stories – poems – reviews – polemic essays and many veteran contributors.

    For Grand Street there was WWII Veteran and author Norman Mailer who was an advisor, WWII Veteran and American Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin, British Veteran/British Poet Laureate and husband to Sylvia Plath – Ted Hughes, Korean War Veteran and author – James Salter; sometimes essayists would cover the life of veterans such as the essays of Christopher Hitchens reflecting on Rudyard Kilping or George Orwell. Hitchens argument or marketable polemics to his readers would be fashioned in his later years, to focus on the issue of God and why God by way of organized religion didn’t exist. Another writer/contributor of Grand Street was MIT’s Professor Noam Chomsky would suggest Hitchens style of argument was actually creating a religion just by encouraging others to take up the soapbox from where Hitchens would argue.

    I believe all Grand Street contributors would agree, the VA exists less to a veteran than god exists to Hitchens. I write Noam frequently, via MIT email service, from the replies … not a sparkle of an axon or dendrite would light a thought for Noam about the VA for an actual accomplishment; though the VA wishes a pat on the ass for long term goals — these are unreal and counterfactual to millions of veterans.

    Make sure your message is in brevity – “My readers call “bullshit” …”

  4. I am not sure that there is any one way to bix the “Back log”. However, a starting point may be to look at the regional offices that are doing better than others with similar numbers/percentages of new referrals. Conversely, compare the offices that are doing/performaing poorly. That sounds like a VA culture problem. They (VA) are trying to hire good people (more qualified veterans need to be hired) training these individuals but not letting them do their jobs. The VA will lose approx 60% of it’s workforce in the next 7 years due to boomer retirement. This is a real opportunity for the VA. Also there are union/personnel issues in terms of dealing with low performing personnel. All of this boils down to $. I am sure that the VA will be looking for new $ requests and that may help. However, I am convinced that this is much more of an internal issue that just needs to be fixed. I have been a veteran for 41 years and this is the 2nd time this crisis has arisen. It might be best to just rexamine what was fixed in the late 70’s and how it was fixed.

  5. The government (VA) created this Monster. As a Marine I do not for one second believe or think that the government wants to fix the backlog catastrophe. There is NO profit for payouts.

  6. This may sound too simplistic but have them run two shifts a day. Yes I know there are AFGE people who will squawk but they should at least consider it.

  7. The Regional stations want a backlog. Can anyone believe that more than 9+ months have been consumed by LOU #327 in processing an echemic HD?. Not finished yet..There has to be something buried in the wood pile, to waste resources in such a manner. We know, even today that VA is cheating the Veterans.Congressional established regulations and VA policies, carry litle significance. Effective date of application, many times revised, claims deleted or combined in absence of any notification to the veteran, how does the applicant know when his application was recieved by the RO.Is mulitation and destruction of applications, is still rampant.. How can VA clean up the malfeasance/nonfeasance.?. There was a Major General in Vietnam that ask me point blank, if I knew what Army Regulations were made for, he answered his own question by saying, Army Regulations are made for two purposes, first reason is to wavier, second reason is to break., otherwise there would be no need for Army Regulations Still trying to decide his reasoning for such a statement. His idealogy may be seeping throughout our entire government. Clean up the lower echelon, then start up the vertical, There are dedicated, trustworthy, Americans capable of taking resposibility.

    IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN

    TOO MUCH CLOUT HANGING ON THE TOP TREE LIMBS

  8. I am outraged about the Nashville, Tennessee regional office and how they have treated me, so I know that talk is cheap. The secretary needs to identify every administrator, or officer that is not willing to do their job and to be be pro active for veterans and dismiss them from their duties because there are too many of these kind of people in positions that act as if it is their money and that are generally biased against veterans they are suppose to serve, all while drawing six figure incomes that come with outrageous bonuses while veterans live on the streets, are constantly placed in financial burdens, and looked at as if they are lepers.

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