Mess Up and Move Up: VA Plays Musical Bad Execs

VA-veterans-affairsThere’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.”

via VA Hid Failed Hospital Chief In Manila | The Daily Caller.

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.

dithers_fires_dagwoodFortunately 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?

8 thoughts on “Mess Up and Move Up: VA Plays Musical Bad Execs

  1. Buckaroo

    “Is it time to zero out the VA’s budget line yet?”

    When Trump becomes President, here’s hoping that’s on his to-do list. You can bet that he is the only candidate running that would even think of doing this.

  2. DAN III

    I have never understood how an agency that is alleges to treat and serve US military veterans refuses to hire those same people.

    Nothing enrages me more than a VA employee “thanking” me for my service.

  3. Steve

    This comment will display my immaturity, but I find my thoughts tending more and more to violence when reading of situations like this: government entity / widespread corruption / refusal even to attempt to reform.

    I would have thought that the VA’s “customers” include a certain percentage of people you wouldn’t want to piss off. Any thoughts on why we don’t see a trend towards rough justice as a solution?

    1. Buckaroo

      Didn’t Kipling write a poem immortalizing the Anglo-Saxon tendency of being slow to anger, but once angered, quick to act?

      Of course, how much Anglo-Saxon blood still remains relatively undiluted here in the US remains an open question.

  4. John

    About 50% of VA workers are vets
    Want to make the VA better?
    Quit your current job and work there
    The reason for the visible stains on the surgery equipment was from corrosion that shows how old the equipment was
    Anyone who thinks that zeroing out the VA budget will solve problems is an idiot
    Maybe hognose will get a job at the VA and help to straighten out that mess

    1. Hognose Post author

      My ex tried that. She quit in under a year, sick of how the staff infighting was Job One, and the fact that it screwed the veterans was a matter of indifference — to the nursing staff, for crying out loud.

      The problem’s not money. VA funding has exploded since 2001. It’s much more than doubled, even as sickly old WWII and Korean War vets have been dying in droves.

      In my opinion, the demonstrated poor performance of the VA is a combination of three things:

      1. rotten, toxic leadership (“There are no bad regiments, only bad colonels” – Bonaparte);
      2. a civil service system that has outlived its usefulness; and,
      3. a classical if severe “agency problem” between the VA-employee “agents” and the veteran “clients,” leading to predictable self-serving behavior by the agents that is not in the clients’ interest.

      Patient care may be starved for resources. That may be true. That is, however, because the VA has misallocated resources (mostly, to line the pockets of insiders and cronies), not because the VA has lacked them. In fact in the current system they have no incentive to fix rusty scalpels, when they can use rusty scalpels to beg for more money from Congress, which then goes into DC managers’ pockets, leaving the rusty scalpels on the shelf for next year’s tin-cup-rattling session.

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