Even as all eyes turn to Barack Obama’s orchestrated border crisis, the VA scandal is still rotting away and dropping toxic fruits of corruption and incompetence. This has always been a Rosetta Stone scandal for the Obama Administration: the intersection of ineptitude, callous bureaucracy, cover-ups over problem-solving, and corruption that runs through just about every big Washington story since 2009 (and quite a few from before then.) Obama rhetoric is all about a brilliant, selfless aristocracy that knows what’s best for everyone, and won’t rest until everyone gets what the deserve… or gives up what the royal court has decreed they do not deserve. Obama reality is a vicious and sickeningly corrupt Ruling Class looting the hell out of the American taxpayer, stuffing millions into their pockets while both government services and the private sector fall apart. Obama’s professed love for the people who “work hard and play by the rules” is the precise opposite of what his Administration actually does. People who work hard and play by the rules are chumps just begging to be exploited.
Take military veterans, for example: the exemplars of Those Who Work Hard and Play By the Rules. When they get back home and need medical care, Obama’s bureaucracy puts them on secret death lists, then files reports purporting to show the system doing a smashing job of clearing up the administrative backlog, meriting fat bonus checks for top officials. But as a new report at the Huffington Post notes, it wasn’t just top officials making out like bandits:
The scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs is systematically overpaying clerks, administrators and other support staff, according to internal audits, draining tens of millions of dollars that could be used instead to ease the VA’s acute shortage of doctors and nurses.
The jobs of some 13,000 VA support staff have been flagged by auditors as potentially misclassified, in many cases resulting in inflated salaries that have gone uncorrected for as long as 14 years.
Rather than moving quickly to correct these costly errors, VA officials two years ago halted a broad internal review mandated by federal law. As a result, the overpayments continue.
Moreover, in the two years since thousands of misclassified jobs were identified, hundreds of additional positions have been filled at improperly high salaries. Internal VA documents obtained by The Huffington Post show that between September 2013 and May 2014, for instance, overpayments in annual salaries for the latter jobs alone came to $24.4 million, not counting benefits.
In May alone, senior VA classification specialists identified 284 probably misclassified positions newly posted on the federal jobs site, USAJobs. Once filled, those jobs would result in estimated overpayments of $3.3 million per year.
For that amount of money, the VA could instead hire five neurosurgeons, 10 psychiatrists and five suicide prevention case managers at the average salaries currently offered on USAJobs.
I’d say this is a classic example of a parasitic bureaucracy killing its hosts – in this case, literally killing veterans – but that’s not true, is it? The veterans are not the hosts this paper-shuffling nightmare feeds off. They were just an inconvenient detail to be disposed of.
As noted above, this sort of thing has been going on for a long time – and evidently it’s not going to stop anytime soon – but it takes on new significance in light of the big VA story from recent months, plus the growing (and accurate) suspicion by civilians that ObamaCare is pushing us all into the same horror show. As the Huffington Post observes, the millions wasted on overpaid staffers could have been used to hire doctors, along with other millions wasted by the VA on ephemera such as conference-room remodeling. More medical personnel would have meant fewer veterans dying while they waited for their applications to be fulfilled… never suspecting that said applications had been stuffed in a locked desk drawer by some corrupt functionary, while their names were deleted from the hospital computer system.
Most of these overpaid staffers work directly for the very same wing of the Department of Veterans Affairs that was compiling those secret waiting lists. The sclerotic nature of the bureaucracy is highlighted by the fact that even though officials knew about they problem, they basically heaved a sigh and concluded nothing could be done about it, so they rolled over and slapped the snooze bar on the review process:
The widespread misclassification of jobs has created a deep and systemic problem at the VA that will require massive job and pay turbulence to resolve — and will surely set off angry protests within the ranks. The General Schedule, or GS, sets pay grades and rates for all federal employees. Even if they keep their higher pay, the loss of a GS grade can affect employees’ future promotions and retirement pay.
Evidently alarmed at that looming employee reaction, senior officials at VA headquarters in Washington ordered a halt two years ago to any review and correction of misclassified jobs that might lead to lowered pay grades and smaller salaries. Paula Molloy, the senior official at the VA’s Office of Human Resources Management handling the issue, told HuffPost that once the VA begins to examine the misclassified jobs, it will be at least 15 months before any corrective action could be taken.
“We are not going to be able to do these reviews overnight,” she said.
That means VA communications clerks, for instance, will keep receiving overpayments. These jobs were misclassified above the proper civil service grade in 2003. All such clerks across the VA have been overpaid since then, at a total cost of $33,715 for each clerk in the last decade. Checks will also continue to go out for air conditioning equipment operators who were improperly classified in 2000, resulting in overpayments for each of those jobs of $67,172 over the past 14 years.
Not only are wasteful salaries protected by law, but the system can’t even stop hiring new people at the inflated rates. That makes talk of solving the problem through “attrition” ring a bit hollow. How does it get resolved through attrition if the system is still overpaying new hires? What’s the average career length of a VA staffer?
All this goes onto the plate of Eric Shinseki’s likely replacement as VA Secretary, Robert A. McDonald, who also has to deal with “sagging morale,” an “entrenched bureaucracy reluctant to change,” and more:
The overpayment problem is surfacing just as the White House is absorbing a new report detailing a “corrosive culture” within the VA, a habit of deceit and mismanagement in its personnel practices. The June 27 report from Deputy White House Chief of Staff Rob Nabors describes a bureaucracy “that tends to minimize problems or refuse to acknowledge problems all together” and is “resistant to reforms.”
Nabors, whom Obama had dispatched to the VA in May to probe the depth and scope of management problems, also found “a lack of accountability across all grade levels” and a “history of retaliation toward employees raising issues.”
As to that “history of retaliation,” Fox News reports that 67 claims of whistleblower retaliation have been filed with the Office of Special Counsel, spread across 28 states and 45 facilities. 25 of those complaints were filed since June 1st – in other words, after the national spotlight swung toward the VA. That’s one heck of an entrenched bureaucracy, all right.
The OIC has already begun blocking and reversing improper disciplinary actions, so at least somebody in Washington is busting a move. Unfortunately, Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner also provided new insight into just how vigorously the corrupt VA system was prepared to defend itself. And can we get ObamaCare directly linked into this story? Yes, we can!
Instead of using information provided by whistleblowers as an early warning system, the VA often “has ignored or attempted to minimize problems, allowing serious issues to fester and grow,” Lerner told the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing. Worse, officials have retaliated against whistleblowers instead of investigating their complaints, she said.
The whistleblowers who testified said that retaliation for reporting misconduct was widespread at the VA.
Scott Davis, a program specialist at the VA’s Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta, said he was placed on involuntary leave after reporting that officials were “wasting millions of dollars” on a direct mail marketing campaign to promote ObamaCare. Davis also reported the possible purging and deleting of at least 10,000 veterans’ health records at the Atlanta center, and said more records and documents could be deleted or manipulated to mask a major backlog and mismanagement.
Davis also charged that after he filed a complaint directly to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors, it was leaked to his manager and he was subsequently subjected to ???harassment.???
Another witness, Dr. Christian Head, works in the Legal and Quality Assurance department of the Greater Los Angeles VA Health Care System. Head said at one point, he was charged with investigating allegations of time card fraud. After reporting his findings, he said he was humiliated in front of hundreds of employees and labeled a ???rat.???
???Retaliation culture is a cancer to the VA,??? he said.
It’s remarkable how often people inside this bloated government use the language and habits of organized crime, isn’t it?
Meanwhile, a doctor at the Phoenix veterans hospital said she was harassed and humiliated after complaining about problems at the hospital, where dozens of veterans died while on waiting lists for appointments.
Dr. Katherine Mitchell said the hospital’s emergency room was severely understaffed and could not keep up with “the dangerous flood of patients” there. Mitchell, a former co-director of the Phoenix VA hospital’s ER, said in testimony prepared for the House committee that strokes, heart attacks, internal head bleeding and other serious medical problems were missed by staffers “overwhelmed by the glut of patients.” Her complaints about staffing problems were ignored, Mitchell said, and she was transferred, suspended and reprimanded.
“It is a bitter irony that our VA cannot guarantee high-quality health care in the middle of cosmopolitan Phoenix” to veterans who survived wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Korea, she said.
I see what Dr. Mitchell is driving at, but I would respectfully submit that it is not “ironic.” It’s Standard Operating Procedure. It’s the way Big Government always ends up. The nominal mission of a corrupt agency is quickly forgotten, as everyone digs into the limitless taxpayer pie and stuffs themselves. The primary purpose of the agency becomes expanding and protecting the agency. Problems get papered over, rather than solved. Anyone who doesn’t play along gets labeled a “rat” and stomped on.
Hell, that all happened to ObamaCare before the misbegotten website even launched. You had to get past the President of the United States, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and $20 million per annum worth of high-level officials before you found someone that dimly remembered the objective of the billion-dollar operation was building a website that people could use, or was concerned they were nowhere near reaching that objective on the day it went live. But nobody was punished or reprimanded; the HHS Secretary got a big “heckuva job” party on her way out the door; and the agency just grabbed another fistful of taxpayer dollars to deal with the problems that would have destroyed any comparable private-sector operation.
The VA is a funhouse-mirror reflection of every part of Barack Obama’s government, and he didn’t invent the concept of feral bureaucracy – he just made it worse, by making it bigger, and more arrogant. It was a watershed moment when the President and his defenders explicitly stated he cannot be held responsible for anything the government does, because it’s just too darn huge to supervise… and they want to make it even bigger. That’s actually been true since long before Obama reached the Oval Office. He’s just the first President lazy enough to say it out loud, and confident enough in his adoring media and debased American political culture to know it wouldn’t matter much. Americans are wearily resigned to a living, breathing, ever-expanding, uncontrollable government that responds to all criticisms, including the VA scandal, by belching and demanding we shovel more of our money down its throat, if we expect it to get anything done.
According to Fox News, whistleblowers told Congress that more protections for people who step forward need to be put in place, and “the VA needs to have more integrity among its leadership.” Good luck with that, fellas. I think the takeaway from all this, and from many similar Obama-era scandals, is that the systems themselves are corrupt beyond the ability of a few good leaders to fix them. Not to say that leadership isn’t important, mind you, but it’s Big Government that terminally and irreparably lacks integrity, not the people serving within it. What mechanisms exist to halt the natural proclivity of the centralized State to pursue its own agenda, rather than serving the people? Where do I go to vote against the bureaucracy? Even congressional oversight has become a sad running joke of endless snow jobs and ignored ultimatums. There is nothing anywhere on the horizon to suggest that the era of Government Of, By, and For the Government is nearing its end. The Ruling Class – including both predatory officials and their very special partners in the private sector – won’t stop looting the American taxpayers until we make them stop. Has anyone got a proposal on the table for making them stop?