There’s a difference between what the VA does with bad and failed executives and the childhood game “Musical Chairs.” But it;s not what you think. You see, in the VA, when the music stops, nobody is missing a chair. A very, very plush chair.
Well, except for the veterans. And it’s not like they count.
Take failed, incompetent St Louis DVA Hospital head Rima Nelson: the latest of her three transfers in a few years was to a do-nothing job in the Philippines, but she keeps the same fat salary she had as mismanager of the massive STL hospital and its thousands of professional and support staff.
In the Phillipines, the cost of housing is a lot lower, so Nelson’s $160k salary and her undisclosed, but probably huge relocation bonus stretch, if that’s teh word, farther. But wait! For Nelson there is no cost of housing, because one of the perks is a free home.
Are you a taxpayer? Of course you are. Did you have any idea you were this generous to the nation’s worst?
Rima Nelson disappeared from public view after the St. Louis Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital she managed potentially exposed 1,800 patients to HIV, was closed twice for serious medical safety issues and ranked dead last in patient satisfaction.
But Nelson wasn’t fired. Her VA superiors hid her literally on the other side of the Earth in 2013 at the department’s only foreign facility, a seldom-used clinic inside the palatial U.S. Embassy in the Philippines capital city of Manila.
She resides in a government-provided condo and gets the same $160,000 salary she made in St. Louis, which allows her to live like royalty in a country where the average person makes only $2,500 a year.
Why is there a VA facility in Manila? Well, it’s to take care of all the Filamerican forces who suffered so in the Bataan Death March and other battles in the Philippine Islands in 1941, and were imprisoned until 1944. Of course, those guys were born in the teens and twenties, and the few survivors among them are nonagenarians and centenarians. But they still exist, for now, and it means a pretty good job for Rima Nelson.
And really, isn’t that what the VA is for? The comfort, convenience, and self-aggrandizement of its employees?
The Manila VA office provides outpatient care and disability checks to the few surviving Filipino World War II veterans who fought alongside Americans against the Japanese. The occasional American veteran who happens to be in the country can also get outpatient care in the Manila VA facility.
The Government Accountability Office questioned in 2011 whether the office was still needed since the last members of the WWII generation of vets were rapidly dying.
Oh, those cheapskates at the GAO. What do they want, Rima to have to decant herself into the Dreaded Private Sector? And actually work for a living? Perish the thought.
On Monday, The Daily Caller News Foundation published a story and database documenting VA’s “bad bosses merry-go-round,” in which the department attempts to solve problems at one facility by bringing in a director who is often fleeing problems at another facility. The merry-go-round exists because civil service rules make it costly and time-consuming to fire top government managers.
Nelson — one of nearly 100 top VA managers TheDCNF found were transferred between three or more states within eight years — became director of the St. Louis facility in February 2009. In mid-2010, its dental unit shut down for a time after the hospital notified 1,800 vets that issues with sterilizing dental equipment could have exposed them to HIV and hepatitis.
The other side of these transfers is the VA’s unbelievably generous moving allowances for senior executives, which allow the executive to move and still pocket hundreds of thousands as an off-the-books bonus. As the song that those 90-something year-old vets might remember went, “Nice work if you can get it.”
On Nelson’s watch, the St. Louis DVA Medical Center blew off sterile precautions, spreading HIV and hepatitis through the veteran community through sheer indolence and indifference. Rosiak writes:
An inspection had found that dental equipment was “visibly dirty post-sterilization … Staff was not familiar with relevant VHA guidance.” A re-inspection found that some of the same issues “still existed 6 months later.”
Then in February, 2011, the hospital stopped performing surgeries for more than a month after surgical trays were found to be rusted. Nelson said the department had no clear explanation for how it happened.
Another follow-up “determined that routine environment of care (EOC) inspections did not adequately identify and resolve outstanding deficiencies.”
“The EMS cleaning log reflected missed cleanings of the area, and our inspectors’ surgical booties were dirty when they left the area,” inspectors wrote.
Fortunately for Small Dog, he is not a veteran (even though he is from St. Louis), because no thinking human would send a dog to this place, or considering giving a manager like Nelson anything but a boot out the door, Mr Dithers-style.
But Nelson was not fired; the VA seems to be preening a bit that she wasn’t, as is more usual for poor performers, promoted.
However, someone was fired. Not a member of the too-big-to-jail Senior Executive Service. Not a too-big-to-fail manager, or a too-bent-to-ever-straighten-out supervisor, or even a too-lazy-to-sterilize-medical-instruments laborer.
So who was fired? C’mon, think it through, you know the answer. Lowly technician Earlene Johnson, whose crime was reporting Nelson’s systematic avoidance of having things cleaned and sterilized. Yep, they fired none of the bad actors. They just fire the whistleblower.
Is it time to zero out the VA’s budget line yet?
There are almost 400 Senior Executive Service managers in the department drawing fat six-figure salaries and matching benefits packages. Almost none of them are veterans, whom the agency actively excludes from positions. And the VA’s most important object — judging from what they do, not what they say — is ensuring that each of these underperformers continue to live a life Caligula would envy.
Here’s a radical idea: give the veterans’ benefits to the veterans, and eliminate the hundreds and thousands of self-serving middlemen.
Is it finally time? Or will next week reveal the VA sounding like Moby Dick to new depths of failure and depravity?