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VA, or the Titanic?
Author: TriSec    Date: 05/22/2018 09:57:21

Good Morning.

We've all been in a situation where there's a leadership vacuum. Whether it's personal, professional, or organizational, it's possible for said group to coast along for some time without real leadership, sometimes even for months or years.

Boy Scout Troop 248 is one such entity at the moment. The highest-ranking youth leader is called the "Senior Patrol Leader", and he's the one in charge. There's meetings to run, trips to organize, scouts and youth leaders that need training, and of course liaising with the adult staff to make certain that the boys' vision is in line with Scouting's principles and regulations.

But over the past two years, we've gone through a succession of weak youth leaders. This season, the SPL is under extreme pressures; he's had a lifetime of medical issues, he's a graduating senior from Waltham High School, and his 18th birthday is next Wednesday. (Eagle project is this weekend!) Needless to say, the SPL's focus has been elsewhere, and the troop has slowly devolved into chaos this season.

While it is disturbing to the leaders, and chaotic and disorganized ( and not fun!) for the boys, it is a youth group. We'll survive, and the life-lessons learned from the harder times are far more beneficial to our Scouts than they would think.

But it's devastating and even life-threatening to an organization like the V. A.

We've gone through a succession of leaders at the V. A. under Mr. Trump's care. The organization has suffered, and now the chaos is spreading throughout the organization. Many people who could stay and help to rebuild, and even the front-line folks who care for our veterans on a daily basis are giving up and leaving.

At first, it was one doctor quitting the tiny Ukiah Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Northern California. Then another left, and another, until of the five doctors there a year ago, only one remained.

The Veterans Choice Act, passed by Congress amid scandalous stories of hidden waiting lists at Veterans Affairs hospitals, allowed more veterans to get care from private providers, but it created an avalanche of paper at Veterans Affairs facilities as outside doctors sent in information on patients. Veterans Affairs doctors had to enter so many medical records manually into the aging department health records system that it crippled their ability to see patients.

“I was working nights and weekends, holidays, and I couldn’t keep up,” said Dr. Neal Elkin, a primary care physician who left the Ukiah clinic in January. “I was so stressed, I couldn’t sleep. My asthma started getting bad, and I just burned out.”

In Washington, the leadership of the department had been working to streamline private care and overhaul its computer system to cut paperwork. Then President Trump plunged the department into turmoil. He fired the Veterans Affairs secretary, Dr. David J. Shulkin, by tweet in March after weeks of infighting. His handpicked replacement, Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, saw his nomination collapse last week amid a barrage of accusations related to his work as the White House physician. Meanwhile, a string of departures at the highest level of the agency has left it adrift.

Unable to find replacement doctors, the Ukiah clinic conducted appointments using remote doctors and video screens.

“You’ve got a huge vacuum of leadership,” said Robert A. McDonald, a Republican tapped by President Barack Obama to lead the department in 2014 after the wait-time scandal brought down his first secretary. “Not only do you not have a secretary, but many of the experienced people who could provide continuity are leaving.”

Legislative efforts to fix the private care program, known as Veterans Choice, have been stalled, in part because of lawmakers’ own disagreements. The contract for a new $16 billion electronic health records system to replace the one built in-house decades ago was put on ice months ago. And lawmakers, veterans advocates and current and former department leaders fear that sinking morale could erase the progress the department has made in recent years.

“The V.A. for months has been hemorrhaging career officials at an alarming rate as one after another is either pushed out or decides to run, not walk, for the door,” said John Hoellwarth, a spokesman for Amvets. “I’ve never known the enthusiastic mass exodus of an organization’s most knowledgeable and experienced personnel to be an indication that all is well.”

But remember, we are living in Cloud-Cuckoo land here. I can look at my scout troop operating, and I see scouts transferring to other units, or simply not coming to meetings anymore. Trips have seen low attendance, and those trips we've gone on have been marked by poor organization and rushed executions. But where I see trouble, of course the Trump "administration" sees success.

Current and recently departed staff members describe the central office in Washington as eerily quiet. Political appointees hold meetings without career staff members and talk openly about purging anyone they see as friendly to the former secretary, according to one former official familiar with the comments.

The department’s No. 2, Deputy Secretary Thomas G. Bowman, has been isolated by Trump White House appointees who see him as too moderate and want to drive him out, current and former officials said. The acting secretary, Robert Wilkie, in charge since March, has been a quiet presence and has not met with key staff members overseeing issues like the Choice program.

Trump administration officials say the department is pushing ahead with a review of the electronic health records contract that should allow a final decision within weeks. The department is working with Congress, they said, to try again to pass long-awaited legislation to improve the private care programs.

An agency spokesman, Curt Cashour, argued that high staff turnover actually benefited the department, allowing the administration to replace high-level officials not fully committed to Mr. Trump’s policies.

“Under President Trump, V.A. has had its most productive year in decades,” Mr. Cashour said in a statement.

But at least in my organization, leadership issues are not forever. Fortunately, we have something in Scouting that are akin to term limits. The SPL serves for one year, usually his last year in the program, and there are always others waiting in the wings. There is a national leadership training, required in some troops, before a scout can become the SPL. We do our best to prepare them for the role and support them as they learn on the job. A luxury the V. A. simply does not have.

As for the troop - we have two scouts listed as "Assistant Senior Patrol Leader", although I have recently told one of those boys, "ASPL" means "Acting Senior Patrol Leader" this year, not assistant. Last night was particularly trying, but as I counseled him last night, the current SPL has three weeks left in the season. At Scout Camp, the troop will be yours and you can start to fix it.

If only a strong and motivated leader could help the V. A. But no such person exists, at least none that are willing to work with Mr. Trump. I will say again what I said in the days after the election.

"I hope you get everything you want out of a Trump Presidency, and more. And if he destroys the United States in the process....GOOD."

How sad that we are proceeding faster down that path.


11 comments (Latest Comment: 05/22/2018 20:45:28 by Mondobubba)
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