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YI: Trump Administration’s Plan to Expand Private Care for Vets Sparks Fight Over VA’s Future

18. October, 2017|president's briefing|No comments

(October 18, 2017)

 

In order to further improve the lines of communication and to respond to the concerns between the National VA Council and you our members, I have established a National VA Council Briefing. This NVAC Briefing will bring you the latest news and developments within DVA and provide you with the current status of issues this Council is currently addressing. I believe that this NVAC Briefing will greatly enhance the way in which we communicate and the way in which we share new information, keeping you better informed.

 

Alma L. Lee

National VA Council, President

 

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In This Briefing: FYI: Trump Administration’s Plan to Expand Private Care for Vets Sparks Fight Over VA’s Future
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Click on link below to review the full story reported by Government Executive

http://www.govexec.com/management/2017/10/trump-administrations-plan-expand-private-care-vets-begins-fight-over-vas-future/141842/#.WeaYWACEAIs.email

The Trump administration has issued its plan to streamline and expand its programs allowing veterans to receive health care from the private sector, igniting the first spark in an upcoming fight on the future of the government’s role in providing care to former military personnel.

The Veterans Affairs Department wants to “merge and modernize” the array of programs allowing patients to receive care outside of VA providers, according to a framework of the Veterans Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences (CARE) Act department officials presented to Congress this week. The measure would eliminate rules for the Veterans Choice Program that require a veteran to live 40 miles from a VA facility or face a 30-day wait to receive care at one in order to become eligible for private care on the department’s dime. That program, created by a law President Obama signed in 2014, got off to a rocky start but has since gained popularity.

VA said its measure would also shore up VA facilities by improving buildings and boosting staffing levels where large numbers of vacancies persist. Secretary David Shulkin said earlier this year department has 49,000 unfilled positions, but the number has since decreased.

January Retirement COLA Set: 2 Percent

16. October, 2017|president's briefing|No comments

(October 16, 2017)

 

In order to further improve the lines of communication and to respond to the concerns between the National VA Council and you our members, I have established a National VA Council Briefing. This NVAC Briefing will bring you the latest news and developments within DVA and provide you with the current status of issues this Council is currently addressing. I believe that this NVAC Briefing will greatly enhance the way in which we communicate and the way in which we share new information, keeping you better informed.

 

Alma L. Lee

National VA Council, President

 

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In This Briefing: January Retirement COLA Set: 2 Percent
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Click on the link below to review the full story reported by fedweek.com:

 

http://www.fedweek.com/fedweek/january-retirement-cola-set-2-percent/

“He got his accountability bill for VA to fire at will, now he wants to spread it to other agencies”

15. October, 2017|president's briefing|No comments

(October 17, 2017)

 

In order to further improve the lines of communication and to respond to the concerns between the National VA Council and you our members, I have established a National VA Council Briefing. This NVAC Briefing will bring you the latest news and developments within DVA and provide you with the current status of issues this Council is currently addressing. I believe that this NVAC Briefing will greatly enhance the way in which we communicate and the way in which we share new information, keeping you better informed.

 

Alma L. Lee

National VA Council, President

 

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In This Briefing: “He got his accountability bill  for VA to fire at will, now he wants to spread it to other agencies”
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Veterans Affairs Head Interviews for Health and Human Services Post

David Shulkin is one the main contenders for position left vacant by Tom Price’s resignation

U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin speaks in Bedminster, N.J., in August.PHOTO: JIM WATSON/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY

David Shulkin, the current U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs and a holdover from the Obama administration, has been interviewed by the White House for the top job at Health and Human Services, according to sources familiar with the meetings.

He is one of a number of leading contenders for the position, which has been vacant since late September when former HHS Secretary Tom Price resigned over criticism of his use of private and military planes.

Other potential candidates include  Seema Verma, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, according to a White House official. Others who also may be in the running are former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and John Fleming, currently HHS’s deputy assistant secretary for health technology reform.

Representatives from multiple veteran advocacy groups said rumors of Dr. Shulkin’s interest in switching agencies has been known among some in the community. A VA spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny Dr. Shulkin’s interview, and a spokesman referred all questions about cabinet-level positions to the White House.

The White House official said that Dr. Shulkin has “made his case” for becoming the next department secretary. Working against him might be the success he has had at the VA, this person said. Both Dr. Shulkin and Ms. Verma have done well in their present positions—a reason President Donald Trump may have no wish to move them, the official said.

“Sometimes you promote someone who’s doing a great job,” the official said. “On the other hand, these are two highly functioning, effective officials doing a good job where they are. And they’re very little trouble.”

Dr. Shulkin, a physician, was unanimously confirmed by the Senatefor his current position and has extensive experience in health-care management.

He is a holdover from former President Barack Obama’s administration, and was first appointed by Mr. Obama to be the head of the VA’s health-care arm under then-Secretary Robert McDonald. He served in that role for more than a year before being tapped for the top job at the department by Mr. Trump.

The White House interview indicates Mr. Trump may be moving quickly to fill the position as he undertakes a sweeping administrative effort to roll back the Affordable Care Act. The position oversees a $1 trillion agency that administers Medicare, Medicaid and implementation of the health law.

Dr. Shulkin’s short tenure has helped push through a number of popular measures including expanding the GI Bill and employee-accountability measures, which have drawn bipartisan praise in Congress and from influential veteran advocacy groups.

While lawmakers from both parties have lauded Dr. Shulkin’s overall performance, he has also drawn some criticism from the VA’s major union and from some veterans groups that say he has put too much focus on punishing workers and moved the department toward more use of private-sector doctors. He also recently has been ensnared in questions about his official travel, prompting the department’s inspector general to look into the matter.

Legislators and veterans groups also await his promised unveiling of plans to address the department’s use of private-sector care. It could lead to a fight in Congress over the department’s future and whether it will move toward more private-sector reliance.

Before joining the VA, Dr. Shulkin served in a variety of executive roles in private hospital systems, including as chief executive of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.

Write to Stephanie Armour at stephanie.armour@wsj.com, Ben Kesling at benjamin.kesling@wsj.com and Peter Nicholas at peter.nicholas@wsj.com

Appeared in the October 14, 2017, print edition as ‘Secretary Of the VA Is Weighed For HHS.’

Undersecretary Poonam Alaigh Caught Up in Veterans Affairs Travel Controversy

10. October, 2017|president's briefing|No comments

(October 10, 2017)

 

In order to further improve the lines of communication and to respond to the concerns between the National VA Council and you our members, I have established a National VA Council Briefing. This NVAC Briefing will bring you the latest news and developments within DVA and provide you with the current status of issues this Council is currently addressing. I believe that this NVAC Briefing will greatly enhance the way in which we communicate and the way in which we share new information, keeping you better informed.

 

Alma L. Lee

National VA Council, President

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In This Briefing: Undersecretary Poonam Alaigh Caught Up in Veterans Affairs Travel Controversy
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Click on link below to review the full story:
http://littleindia.com/undersecretary-poonam-alaigh-caught-veterans-affairs-travel-scandal/

Acting Undersecretary Poonam Alaigh and her husband accompanied Veterans Affairs chief David Shulkin and his wife on a 10-day trip to Europe in July this year, which is being criticized as a taxpayer paid holiday junket.

While on an official visit for meetings with Danish and British officials, Shuklin attended a Wimbledon tennis match. He and his entourage also toured several palaces and the Copenhagen Canal in Denmark, as well as visited the Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral, and took a cruise on the Thames in the United Kingdom.

Besides the Alaighs, Shulkin’s travel team included his chief of staff Vivieca Wright Simpson and James Gough, director of Intergovernmental Affairs, according to the official travel itinerary released by the Department of Veterans Affairs. They were accompanied by a team of six security personnel.

Controversial Europe Trip

Shulkin was visiting Europe for meetings on veterans’ health issues, but he spent more than half the time in sightseeing and shopping, according to the Washington Post, which first reported on the controversy.

The report comes on the heels of the resignation of Tom Price, the Health and Human Services Secretary, who was forced out on Sept. 29 following allegations of taxpayer-funded air travel.

The controversy involving Shulkin is not on the same scale as Price, who is believed to have racked up nearly $1 million in private charters and military travel costs. The VA revealed on Sept. 29 that the federal government paid for the flights for Shulkin and his wife, Merle Bari. The government also provided per-diem reimbursement for their meals and other expenses. Under federal guidelines, Bari could have been eligible for per diem reimbursement of $3,600.

The VA representative did not respond to the Washington Post on how Bari became eligible for reimbursements and taxpayer-funded airfare, saying only that she was traveling on “approved invitational orders.” The spokesperson also refused to reveal the flight fare and the total reimbursement amount.

Alaigh defended the trip, telling the newspaper it contributed to a valuable exchange of ideas with their British and Danish counterparts.

“Were there some breaks we got? Sure. But they were reasonable. They were not at the expense of what we had committed to do: representing our country and showing our commitment to veterans,” Alaigh told the Washington Post.

A travel itinerary released by the Department of Veterans Affairs shows that Alaigh, who is Indian American, and her husband Raman Alaigh accompanied the secretary on a separate flight. Raj Mukherji, a lawyer for Alaigh, told Little India: “The Undersecretary’s tremendous service to our country has required considerable sacrifice on the part of her family. Her residency in Washington during the week kept her away from her husband regularly. Naturally, Mr. Alaigh took what few opportunities he could to spend precious time with his wife, which they did completely at their own expense with no cost to taxpayers. By the way, they both flew in coach for all segments!”

Alaigh resigned several days before the controversy broke, and earlier had withdrawn from consideration for the permanent position. In a Sept 25 email to colleagues, she wrote: “For the last two years, I have been splitting my time, in DC during the week and back home in New Jersey on weekends. While I have been incredibly fulfilled, both professionally and personally, such a schedule has proved to be increasingly demanding on my family. After much thought and deliberation, I have made the difficult decision to step down as Acting Under Secretary of Health effective October 7th 2017.” Carolyn Clancy, the deputy undersecretary of health for organizational excellence, will assume her post.

According to the Military Times, which first reported the resignation, “she had publicly told staff she planned on serving with the agency for only two years,” when she joined the department under the Obama administration in Sept 2015 as senior advisor to then Undersecretary Shulkin. After Shulkin was appointed Secretary in February 2017, she was nominated as Acting Undersecretary for Health by Pres. Trump on May 19.

Alaigh told Little India: “It has been my absolute privilege to dedicate the last two years of my life to the well-being and care of our veterans and the development of a world class integrated delivery system.”

Alaigh is an internist, who completed her residency at the State University of New York in Stony Brook. She earlier served as national medical director for GlaxoSmithKline, cofounder of the Atlantic Accountable Care Organization, and Commissioner of the Department of Health and Senior Services of New Jersey.

VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour defended the trip, saying that Shulkin’s visit, including his trip to the Wimbledon game, was reviewed and approved by the ethics counsel. He added that Alaigh’s husband paid his expenses for the trip.

“These were important trips with our allies to discuss best practices for taking care of veterans. The secretary has been transparent on his down-time activities that were similar to what he would have done with his family over a weekend in the U.S.,” Cashour said.

Shulkin attended a conference in London on July 19 to discuss mental health issues with representatives of Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, following meetings in Denmark from July 12-14.

Travel Scandals in Trump Administration

Several senior members of Congress, including two key Republicans, have expressed concerns over the travel scandals engulfing members of the Trump administration. Beside Price, the travels of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt are also under scrutiny. House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy and Democrat Rep. Elijah E. Cummings recently wrote to the White House to ensure that official travel is not connected to personal use.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has also written to Trump inquiring about the steps his administration is taking to “ensure Cabinet secretaries use the most fiscally responsible travel in accordance with the public trust they hold.”

Thousands of Federal Employees Volunteer as Surge Force for FEMA Relief Efforts

26. September, 2017|president's briefing|No comments

(September 26, 2017)

 

In order to further improve the lines of communication and to respond to the concerns between the National VA Council and you our members, I have established a National VA Council Briefing. This NVAC Briefing will bring you the latest news and developments within DVA and provide you with the current status of issues this Council is currently addressing. I believe that this NVAC Briefing will greatly enhance the way in which we communicate and the way in which we share new information, keeping you better informed.

 

Alma L. Lee

National VA Council, President

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In This Briefing: Thousands of Federal Employees Volunteer as Surge Force for FEMA Relief Efforts
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Thousands of federal employees are volunteering to join government relief efforts after successive hurricanes devastated the Gulf Coast and American Southeast.

As of Monday, almost 2,200 federal volunteers are on the ground as part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Surge Capacity Force, with hundreds more volunteers ready to deploy immediately. As a supplement to FEMA responders, the surge force provides extra personnel when a disaster response requires more resources than FEMA has at its immediate disposal. Surge force volunteers are currently active in the areas hit by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and will likely be sent to Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands as responses shift from the rescue to recovery phase.

The surge force is usually reserved only for Homeland Security Department employees, but with resources spread thin among hurricane relief efforts in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean, acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke opened up the surge force program to all federal employees. This marked the first time all government employees became eligible for the program.

At press time, 239 non-DHS federal volunteers are on the ground helping with the recovery effort, and another 667 are registered and ready to deploy at a moment’s notice, DHS Assistant Press Secretary Justine Whelan told Government Executive. Volunteers are processed and trained at a DHS facility in Anniston, Ala., before heading off to the disaster areas.

Whelan said DHS had planned to eventually make the Surge Capacity Force available to employees at other agencies, but the recent storms hastened the process. The surge force will stay open to all government workers indefinitely.

While FEMA continues to lead many of the efforts on the ground in the disaster zones, the agency’s Chief Human Capital Officer Corey Coleman said this year’s particularly destructive hurricane season has begun pushing the limits of FEMA’s staff.

More than 5,300 of the almost 16,000 people who work at FEMA are currently deployed on the ground in hurricane efforts, according to a FEMA spokesperson. Though disaster relief is the agency’s primary function, employees are still responsible for the day-to-day operations that keep the agency up and running. After almost a full month of intense disaster response, Coleman said the FEMA workforce needs to regroup.

“Every employee has two different jobs: they have their job they do on a day-to-day basis, but they also have a disaster role,” Coleman said last Wednesday at a panel discussion hosted by Government Executive Media Group. “We’re supporting the disaster [relief], but we are getting to the point where we are looking for how to get the appropriate mix.”

Expanding the surge force program should relieve some of the pressure on FEMA. More than 6,500 DHS employees were registered as volunteers before Duke opened SCF to all federal employees. The agency is hoping to get at least 2,200 non-DHS volunteers to sign up. Coleman said as long as employees can get their agency’s approval, FEMA has a job for them.

“Unless we don’t need anymore people, I’ve never seen us turn anybody away,” he said.

Volunteers will have the chance to work in a variety of recovery responsibilities, including logistics; public assistance, such as debris monitoring; individual assistance, such as aid to survivors; disaster survivor assistance, to notify the public about available assistance programs; information technology; human resources; external affairs; acquisition; and planning. Their stint in the SCF will last a maximum of 45 days.

The government is calling not only on current employees to support relief efforts, but also asking federal retirees with relevant experience to join the response. The Small Business Administration announced it will hire a temporary workforce to help process the flood of hurricane-related disaster loan applications from Sept. 1 through the end of the year. SBA has hired over 1,300 people

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association encouraged members to answer SBA’s call for assistance. Federal retirees are especially equipped for these types of rapid response efforts given that many have previous experience in the area, NARFE Legislative Director Jessica Klement told Government Executive. Though every individual can contribute to relief efforts, federal retirees “may be the easiest to find, hire and train quickly,” she said. At least three NARFE members have come out of retirement to support disaster relief efforts, Klement said.

While Harvey and Irma responses have moved mostly to the recovery phase, FEMA is still leading search and rescue operations throughout Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Maria. The category 4 storm slammed into Puerto Rico last Wednesday, knocking out power across the entire island. As of Monday morning, more than 90 percent of the island’s communications infrastructure remained out of operation, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

VA Wait Times As Good or Better Than Private Sector

25. September, 2017|president's briefing|No comments

(September 25, 2017)

 

In order to further improve the lines of communication and to respond to the concerns between the National VA Council and you our members, I have established a National VA Council Briefing. This NVAC Briefing will bring you the latest news and developments within DVA and provide you with the current status of issues this Council is currently addressing. I believe that this NVAC Briefing will greatly enhance the way in which we communicate and the way in which we share new information, keeping you better informed.

 

Alma L. Lee

National VA Council, President

 

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In This Briefing: VA Wait Times As Good or Better Than Private Sector
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Click on link below to review the full report:

http://www.military.com/daily-news/2017/09/20/va-wait-times-good-better-private-sector-report.html

Military.com | 20 Sep 2017 | by Richard Sisk

VA health care is as good or in some cases better than that offered by the private sector on key measures including wait times, according to a study commissioned by the American Legion.

The report, issued Tuesday and titled “A System Worth Saving,” concludes that the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system “continues to perform as well as, and often better than, the rest of the U.S. health-care system on key quality measures,” including patient safety, satisfaction and care coordination.

“Wait times at most VA hospitals and clinics are typically the same or shorter than those faced by patients seeking treatment from non-VA doctors,” the report says.

The 17-page report was co-authored by Phillip Longman, a senior editor at the Washington Monthly and adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, and Suzanne Gordon, a health care journalist and assistant adjunct professor at the University of California at San Francisco School of Nursing.

The report comes at a time when the Trump administration, Congress and the VA are considering a long-term overhaul of the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans to seek VA-funded care through private providers.

In July, Congress approved a $3.9 billion bill to extend the Veterans Choice Program on private care for six months. Funding for Choice had been due to run out in mid-August, according to the VA.

The Choice program, established after a 2014 scandal over extended wait times for care at VA medical facilities, allows veterans who face a more than 30-day wait for an appointment, or who must travel more than 40 miles to a VA facility, to instead seek VA-funded care through private providers.

In a memorandum last week to VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin, the VA’s Office of Inspector General warned that the Choice program continues to be plagued by problems with duplicate payments, overpayments, and a failure to offset payments against outside insurance coverage.

“These deficiencies must be addressed in the process of awarding additional contracts to any [contract payment processors] that may be selected for the future iteration of the Choice Program currently under consideration by Congress,” the IG’s Office said.

Since the Choice program’s inception, the American Legion and other Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) have cautioned against attempts to use it as a smokescreen to privatize the VA.

Legion-commissioned report says, “Although there are opportunities for VA to improve its performance by entering into partnerships with other health-care providers, no evidence supports the claim that privatizing VA or substantially outsourcing its services would bring veterans better care.”

The report continues, “In evaluating the quality of VA care, one should first remember to ask an all-important question: “Compared to what?”

On wait times, “The entire American health-care system faces acute shortages of doctors, especially primary care physicians and mental health professionals. This means that even fully insured patients seeking care outside VA often face long wait times to see doctors,” the report states.

The report cites numerous studies, including one by industry consulting firm Merritt Hawkins showing the wait time to get a first appointment with a private-sector doctor averaged 24 days in 15 metropolitan areas.

“By contrast, the latest available data shows that one in five VA patients is seen on the same day he or she makes an appointment,” the report says.

“Even though roughly 16 percent of VA primary care facilities are operating at over 100 percent of capacity, for the system as a whole, the average wait time to see a VA primary care doctor is five days, and nine days for appointments with VA specialists,” it states.

“The familiar narrative about wait times at VA being worse than in the rest of the system is just demonstrably untrue,” the report says.

Data on disciplined feds no longer reported | OPM calls for annual pay rate review

19. August, 2017|president's briefing|No comments

(August 11, 2017)

 

In order to further improve the lines of communication and to respond to the concerns between the National VA Council and you our members, I have established a National VA Council Briefing. This NVAC Briefing will bring you the latest news and developments within DVA and provide you with the current status of issues this Council is currently addressing. I believe that this NVAC Briefing will greatly enhance the way in which we communicate and the way in which we share new information, keeping you better informed.

 

Alma L. Lee

National VA Council, President

 

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In This Briefing:  Data on disciplined feds no longer reported | OPM calls for annual pay rate review
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Reply-To: noreply@1105media.com

8/10/2017

In an effort to protect the privacy of federal employees, the Office of Personnel and Management is no longer reporting whether employees are terminated for wrong doing or poor performance.

The Office of Personnel Management is asking agencies to review the special higher rates of pay they use to ensure sufficient recruitment and retention of certain General Schedule employees in specific occupations, grades and locations.

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The Senate has confirmed the replacement of former FBI Director James Comey, who was ousted by President Trump in May.

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  • “Do I pay state taxes on a TSP withdrawal? I retired and decided to withdraw 35k and put the rest into an annuity. So now that I have to file, I am confused if I have to report the 35k. While contributing to TSP, I lived in three different states.”

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Most Read from The Washington Post: White House tensions flare in the open as Scaramucci rips Priebus in vulgar tirade

28. July, 2017|president's briefing|No comments

(July 28, 2017)

 

In order to further improve the lines of communication and to respond to the concerns between the National VA Council and you our members, I have established a National VA Council Briefing. This NVAC Briefing will bring you the latest news and developments within DVA and provide you with the current status of issues this Council is currently addressing. I believe that this NVAC Briefing will greatly enhance the way in which we communicate and the way in which we share new information, keeping you better informed.

 

Alma L. Lee

National VA Council, President

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In This Briefing: Most Read from The Washington Post: White House tensions flare in the open as Scaramucci rips Priebus in vulgar tirade
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 
   
     
 
 
 
Please enjoy this complimentary daily newsletter from The Washington Post.
 
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FYI: Most Read from The Washington Post: Here’s how local TV news is making it harder for the Senate to repeal Obamacare

26. July, 2017|president's briefing|No comments

(July 26, 2017)

 

In order to further improve the lines of communication and to respond to the concerns between the National VA Council and you our members, I have established a National VA Council Briefing. This NVAC Briefing will bring you the latest news and developments within DVA and provide you with the current status of issues this Council is currently addressing. I believe that this NVAC Briefing will greatly enhance the way in which we communicate and the way in which we share new information, keeping you better informed.

 

Alma L. Lee

National VA Council, President

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In This Briefing: FYI: Most Read from The Washington Post: Here’s how local TV news is making it harder for the Senate to repeal Obamacare
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 
   
     
 
 
 
Please enjoy this complimentary daily newsletter from The Washington Post.
 
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FYI: VA fires more than 500 feds under Trump, even before new accountability law

10. July, 2017|president's briefing|No comments

(July 10, 2017)

 

In order to further improve the lines of communication and to respond to the concerns between the National VA Council and you our members, I have established a National VA Council Briefing. This NVAC Briefing will bring you the latest news and developments within DVA and provide you with the current status of issues this Council is currently addressing. I believe that this NVAC Briefing will greatly enhance the way in which we communicate and the way in which we share new information, keeping you better informed.

 

Alma L. Lee

National VA Council, President

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In This Briefing:  FYI: VA fires more than 500 feds under Trump, even before new accountability law
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The agency that has been the main target of efforts to fire feds faster dismissed more than 500 employees this year — even before a new accountability law took effect.

Since the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) shamed itself in 2014 with a scandal over the coverup of long patient wait times, Capitol Hill politicians have demanded that the agency accelerate sacking — as if that were the main measure of good personnel administration. Department leaders joined the call and perpetuated the impression that life would be better if only more derelicts could be dumped.

Now we know that VA has dumped plenty.

Its first public posting, released Friday, of adverse actions against employees, terminations, suspensions and demotions, showed that the department fired 525 staffers from Jan. 20, when President Trump took office, through July 3.

The number of staffers dismissed should not be confused with effective human resource management. A certain percentage of terminations is inevitable in any organization, particularly during probationary periods. Yet, an excessive and perverse focus on firing makes that a valued metric, instead of more attention on measures encouraging the agency, its managers and its employees to succeed.

VA’s 26-page list is filled with “removals,” which is government-speak for firings, of staffers, including doctors, nurses, housekeepers, grave diggers.

“Under this administration, VA is committed to becoming the most transparent organization in government,” Secretary David Shulkin said. “… Veterans and taxpayers have a right to know what we’re doing to hold our employees accountable and make our personnel actions transparent. Posting this information online for all to see, and updating it weekly, will do just that.”

This transparency also busts the myth that feds can’t be fired. Terminating more than 500 people in less than six months, even from a 345,000-strong department workforce, should be enough to make the cruelest boss content.

Governmentwide, more than 77,000 feds were fired for performance or conduct issues during fiscal 2000-2014, according to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), an average of more than 5,000 a year. Out of a current workforce of about 2 million, that’s not much, but it’s not supposed to be. Plus, 5,000 is not nothing.

The list of adverse actions was compiled before Trump signed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act last month. It erodes civil service due process protections for all VA employees and pointedly facilitates faster firing of department’s 469 senior executives.

“Some of the employees involved in these [wait list] scandals remained on the payrolls,” Trump lamented at the signing ceremony. “Outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable.”

But the adverse-action list demonstrates than many VA employees were held accountable before the act became law, despite comments by Trump and Shulkin giving the opposite impression.

“It is clear that there is sadly a pervasive lack of accountability,” Shulkin said at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing in May. He cited an employee who “was caught watching pornography on the job.” That employee, a psychiatrist, was fired, just not as quickly as Shulkin wanted.

Like democracy, due process takes time.

Under the new accountability law, due process for VA employees, such as it is, will take less time and they can be bounced on less evidence. Shulkin can design an in-house process that makes him the prosecutor, judge and appellate court for senior executives. He is responsible for charging them with an offense, determining the punishment and hearing employee appeals of the sentence. The law abolished their right, available to other federal employees, to a neutral, third-party review by the MSPB or another agency.

The new authority, which won strong support from both parties and veterans’ organizations, “allows VA to take action more expeditiously,” said VA spokesman James Hutton, “and to more easily defend its actions on appeal, as [MSPB administrative] judges must now afford deference to VA’s choice of penalty and must uphold actions when VA proves misconduct by substantial evidence,” a lower bar than the previously required “preponderance of evidence.”

Leaders of employee organizations differ on Shulkin’s decision to release the list of adverse actions.

  1. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 70 percent of VA’s employees, said the list “isn’t transparency. It’s an intimidation tactic. … As former VA Secretary Bob McDonald said, you can’t fire your way to excellence.”

I side more with Bill Valdez, president of the Senior Executives Association. Rather than intimidation, the list demonstrates “it’s not so hard to remove feds and it happens all the time,” he said. “Why in the world did they need more authority to fire feds when they can to it at this rate?”

The list, Valdez added, is “a great demonstration to the American public that feds are held accountable and can be held accountable.”