Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cause and effect

BULLY BOY PRESS & CEDRIC'S BIG MIX -- THE KOOL-AID TABLE

ANOTHER BROKEN PROMISE. CELEBRITY IN CHIEF BARRY O'S PROMISE TO CLOSE GUANTANAMO BY JANUARY 22, 2010 WILL NOT HAPPEN.

REACHED FOR COMMENT, BARRY O TOLD THESE REPORTERS, "I HAVE MORE SERIOUS ISSUES TO WORRY ABOUT. MY POLLS ARE STILL TANKING AND SO ARE SHE-HULK'S."


FROM THE TCI WIRE:

Okay so Odierno steps up to the plate, what about the US Congress? We have to ask that question because yesterday Kimberly Hefling (AP) broke the story that the GI Bill payments due at the start of the fall semester? Some still haven't received them. "Thousands" still wait. For the checks that should have been cut no later than the first day of the fall semester last August or September (depending on when the semester started which differed for some campuses). It is now the end of December. It is now Christmas in fact. And veterans are still waiting. The year will end with them still waiting. Now let's be really clear, the rent doesn't wait, the food doesn't wait, the bills don't wait. Veterans have to take care of all of those things. While waiting for the VA to get off it's happy and bloated ass and do what it should have done months ago.

October 14th, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki appeared before the US House Committee on Veterans Affairs. At that point, veterans across the country were struggling as they waited for the VA to make good on the payments they were led to believe would start with the fall semester. And the Committee should have focused on that but they didn't. They fretted that Shinseki kept his "light under a bushel" (that's a direct quote from a member of Congress) and that he needed to hire a PR person so that everyone would know what a wonderful job he was doing. What wonderful job? The scandal had broken, the press was all over it and the committee was kissing Shinseki's ass instead of holding him accountable. They all played dumb when he volunteered that the VA always, ALWAYS, knew this would happen, that a huge number of veterans would wait and wait and wait for checks. The Committee should have exploded with righteous indignation over the fact that (a) this was done to veterans and (b) the VA failed to inform Congress of what they knew.

Of course, they didn't. They weren't holding him accountable. It was embarrassing in real time and it's only more embarrassing today as we now know the problem that Shinseki said was fixed has not, HAS NOT, been fixed. Here's the money quote from Shinseki, here's what he told Congress:

I'm looking at the certificates of eligibility uh being processed on 1 May and enrollments 6 July, checks having to flow through August. A very compressed timeframe. And in order to do that, we essentially began as I arrived in January, uh, putting together the plan -- reviewing the plan that was there and trying to validate it. I'll be frank, when I arrived, uh, there were a number of people telling me this was simply not executable. It wasn't going to happen. Three August was going to be here before we could have everything in place. Uh, to the credit of the folks in uh VA, I, uh, I consulted an outside consultant, brought in an independent view, same kind of assessment. 'Unless you do some big things here, this is not possible.' To the credit of the folks, the good folks in VBA, they took it on and they went at it hard. We hired 530 people to do this and had to train them. We had a manual system that was computer assisted. Not very helpful but that's what they inherited. And we realized in about May that the 530 were probably a little short so we went and hired 230 more people. So in excess of 700 people were trained to use the tools that were coming together even as certificates were being executed. Uhm, we were short on the assumption of how many people it would take.

He knew. He knew when he came into office. He was told it and he confirmed it with an outside consultant. But he never told Congress. No one ever told Congress and no one told the veterans waiting for the checks. "Thousands" of whom are still waiting all this time later.

The October 16th snapshot covers the October 15th appearance of the VA's Keith Wilson appearing before the Subcommittee that US House Rep Stephanie Herseth Sandlin chairs. We'll note one exchange from that hearing:

US House Rep Harry Mitchell: Mr. Wilson, this is not your first appearance before this subcommittee. You have appeared before it several times since the GI Bill was signed into law to keep the committee members apprised of the VA's efforts to implement the GI Bill. And you offered assurances that the VA would be ready by August 1st. You even brought in a detailed timeline to show us how the VA would be ready by August 1st. In February, [John] Adler of this Committee asked if the VA needed more tools to accomplish the goal of program implementation and you responded by stating, "This legislation itself came with funding. This funding at this point has adequately provided us with what we need for implementing payments on August 1, 2009." If this legislation provided you with what you needed then why did you go to the VA -- or then where did you and the VA go wrong in meeting the implementation goal? So I'd like to ask two questions. How are we supposed to believe the assurances you're offering today? And, two, knowing how interested Congress is in implementing the GI Bill, once you knew you were running into problems, why didn't you let us know? Why did we have to first hear about it from veterans and read about it in the Army Times?

Keith Wilson: You rightly call us out in terms of not providing timely service to all veterans. We acknowledge that and uh are working as hard as humanly possible uh to make sure that we are meeting those goals. Uh the timeline that we provided to the subcommittee uh I believe was largely met uh in terms of our ability to generate payments on the date that we were required to deliver the first checks -- first payments did go out August 3rd. Uh there were a couple of significant challenges uh that we had not anticipated. One was uh the volume of work created by the increase in applications for eligibility determinations that did not translate into student population dropping off other programs. But we had significantly more work in our existing programs than we would have expected to have to maintain going into the fall enrollment. One of the other primary challenges that we have responded to is uh when we began our ability to use the tools that were developed uh to implement the program in the short term. Uh May 1st is when we began using those tools and it was very clear to us from the get-go that even accounting for our understanding that they weren't perfect, we underestimated the complexity and the labor-intensive nature of what needed to be done. We responded by hiring 230 additional people to account for that.

US House Rep Harry Mitchell: And I read all of that in your testimony. My point is, once you knew you were running into problems, why didn't you come back to us? We heard it first by veterans and through the Army Times that you were having problems.

Keith Wilson: [Heavy, audible sigh] It has been our desire from the get-go to make sure that the subcommittee has been informed all along. If we did not meet those expectations, then we need to be held accountable for that. We provided information that we had at each of the hearings and we have had a long standing mechanism by which we have provided updates to staff on a regular basis. Uh we did notify the Subcommittee at the time of the hiring of the 230 additional people.

In that hearing, Stephanie Herseth repeatedly asked if he needed additional staff at the call center for educational benefits. She also underscored that "we need to be made aware of the problems immediately if there's any complications that arise" and "if you start anticipating problems or start experiencing problems" then let the Committee know. She wasn't alone in stating that. US House Rep John Adler also touched on this repeatedly such as asking Wilson "are there any other tools you need from Congress" and reminding him that "we would like to hear from you as needs arise, before the crisis arise" and "tell us what you need from us." Congress hasn't been informed of these problems and if the checks still aren't out, then obviously the VA needed additional staff. Obviously. Another VA witness lies to Congress (or doesn't know the status) and veterans are again waiting. And when does Congress intend to take the VA to task? This is nonsense. No veteran who enrolled for the fall 09 semester should still be waiting for the monies owed to them from the new GI Bill. That is ridiculous, that is insulting and until Congress gets ready to hold the VA accountable, there won't be any improvement.

The next hearing on this issue should get to when a problem was known and why Congress was not immediately notified. The next hearing should probe whether a decision was made to keep Congress out of the loop. Congress is supposed to offer supervision and thus far the VA has thwarted that by repeatedly providing the Congress with false information -- and a good portion of the false information was provided intentionally.

It is outrageous that as so many use tomorrow to celebrate with families or reflect, veterans continue waiting for fall '09 checks. It is outrageous that the New Year will begin with these veterans still waiting. If the Congress doesn't pursue this and do so strongly, then their behavior will be outragoues. Right now, it's just sad.




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1 comment:

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