LIKE A CLOSETED GAY CELEBRITY, BARRY O LIKES TO PUT ON A SHOW WHEN ESCORTING HIS MASCULINE SHE HULK ABOUT TOWN AND LAST NIGHT WAS NO DIFFERENT AS OUR WEAK CELEBRITY IN CHIEF TOOK THOSE AMAZING SHOULDERS OUT FOR A 'DATE NIGHT' -- JUST LIKE ROCK HUDSON USED TO DO WITH MAMIE VAN DOREN!
NO SOONER HAD THE COUPLE LEFT KOMI THEN, FORESHADOWING OF 2012?, THE ROOM BURST INTO APPLAUSE.
NO SOONER HAD THE CELEBRITY IN CHIEF DEPARTED FROM THE EATERY THAN REPORTERS DESCENDED UPON HIM.
"HEY, HEY," BARRY O SAID POINTING TO SHE HULK, "DON'T GET HER IN THE PICTURES. I TOLD HER THAT DRESS AND THOSE SHOES WERE A DISASTER BUT GIRL DON'T KNOW HOW TO DRESS. DAMN. ME, ON THE OTHER HAND, CHECK THIS OUT, MY WAIST IS NOW DONE TO A 26. I MAKE KATE MOSS LOOK FAT! SNAP!"
FROM THE TCI WIRE:
Turning to the US where a subcommittee of the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled "Quality v. Quantity: Examining the Veterans Benefits Administration's Employee Work Credit and Management Systems." As Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Chair John Hall noted, "One of our longer titles of a hearing." The Subcommittee heard from three panels. The first panel was composed of CNA's Eric Christensen. Why?
Chair John Hall: We also intended for today's hearing to provide an opportunity to examine a Congressionally-mandated report on the VBA's work credit and management system outlined in legislation that I developed and sponsored during the 110th Congress, the Veterans Disability Benefits Claims Modernization Act of 2008, HR 5892, codified in Public Law 110-389. The goal of this legislation, among other things, was to provide VBA with a valuable roadmap to assess and improve its work credit and management systems to produce better claims outcomes for our veterans. The deadline for this report was October 31, 2009 and I note that we have yet to receive it. However, VA has authorized its independent research contractor that was retained to complete this report, the Center for Naval Analyses to testify before us today concerning a summary of the report's findings and recommendations. VA advised the Subcommittee that the report is still under review by the agency and OMB and that it should be transmitted to Congress soon. We look forward to hearing today when this report will be ready and submitted to Congress, and getting a better understanding of why it has not yet been delivered.
The above was in his opening remarks. We'll note this exchange that took place during questioning.
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: Thank you and can you give us any insight into why the VA has been unable to release the study that was made by CNA which I believe you said was completed in September?
Eric Christensen: That's correct. We completed it in September and delivered it to VBA per our contract. I cannot speak for VA in terms of why they have not provided it to you.
CNA completed the report in September 2009. Congress was ordered to report on that study and the report was due October 31, 2009. It is now May 2010 and the report has not been made to Congress. Representing the VA was Diana M. Rubens (on the third panel), the Associate Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations. This is what she stated in her opening remarks:
As the Subcommittee is fully aware, Public Law 110-389 required the Secretary [of the VA] to initiate a stufy of the effectiveness of the VBA's employee work credit to evaluate a more effective means of improving disability claims processing performance. I apologize for the late delivery as we experienced delays in both the initiation of that study and the completion of that concurrence process. I do anticipate that that will be delivered shortly and I'm happy to be available for any questions you have upon review of that study.
She went on to claim that CNA and VBA were similar in their analysis. Were that correct, why would it take so long to release a report on the study? It will be "delivered shortly" -- she anticipates. In the written version of her opening statment (what will make it into the record over her verbal response quoted above), she's stating "we expect to deliver [the report] in the near future."
It all sounds like "Check's in the mail." And what is it with the VA that they can get anything right these days? They can't make fall 2009 payments on time (they just finished -- or supposedly 'finished' -- there may be some veterans still waiting) and they can't turn in a report that was due October 31, 2009. Is Eric Shinseki unable to provide leadership and oversight to the department? If so, then a new VA Secretary may be needed. How does a department head not notice that a report legally due to Congress no later than October 31st still hasn't been delivered 7 months later?
We'll note this exchange from the hearing:
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: Thank you Ms. Rubens, could you please explain, first of all, what has delayed the transmission of the report outlined in PL 110-389? And when you said "shortly," what does that mean? When will we receive that report?
Diana M. Rubens: Yes, sir. I, uh, I will tell you that, uh, this study was one of eleven in 110-389. As we worked to get the studies all engaged, it took us longer than it should have. It was an unexcusable delay. Uhm. That was enacted in October. It took us until March -- you heard Mr. Christensen say we engaged them in March  and so that was an inexcusable delay. Uh, as I understand it and I spent the last couple of days trying to ascertain just where it is. The concurrence process through VA, VBA and working with OMB is closer to the end of that process than the beginning. And we've engaged in some ongoing discussions to ensure that everybody that's looking at it, if you will, outside of VBS recognize that we are late.
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: Well if the report was done in September , are you changing the report? Is it being modified or are you just reading it before we get to read it?
Diana Rubens: I will tell you that I think we were reading it before you get to read it and the concurrence process over the course of October, November and December was painfully protracted. It wasn't so much that we're editing or changing, I think it's making sure that we understand. And unfortunately not staying on top of the concurrence process to move it along.
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: Well I would appreciate receiving it within what I would consider to be a reasonable time -- like the next week. I see no reason why a report that was paid for by the tax payer, that was required by this Congress and by this Committee and that was completed last September by an outside contractor should be sitting somewhere at VA -- and for no good reason that I've been told -- other than, it being reviewed and 'concurred' upon -- whatever that may mean -- has not been shared with us. And I think it's time.
Diana Rubens: Yes, sir.
That was far from VA's only problem. Another example arose in the hearing.
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: As of May 1st of this year, there are over 87,000 compensation claims pending before the New York RO [Regional Office], nearly half of which have been waiting for over 125 days. What can you tell my New York area veterans and those in other Congressional districts about the work that's being done to reform the systems so that the staff -- both line staff and managers alike -- focus on improving quality and still get the benefits to the veterans in a timely manner?
Diana Rubens: Yes, sir. Specifically, the New York -- As you know, we've got a new management team in the New York Regional Office. I'm very excited about their innovation approach, their collaboration approach that they've taken on on their own already with the local medical centers to ensure that we get, uh, timely, accurate exams upon which to make decisions. And so the efforts there with a new management team I think will begin to, if you will, bear fruit as they help the employees better manage the work in innovative ways that they've developed locally. At the national level, you know, I've mentioned some of the things that we've done to generate ideas whether it's internally, whether it's through the roundtable that [House Veterans Affairs Committee] Chairman [Bob] Filner hosted, whether it's our national innovation initiative. And we are working to put together an overarching approach to how do we improve nationwide? Uh, some of the things that I think heard concern about here as well. Interim ratings is one of the things that I've heard discussed in terms of if there are 3 or 4 issues on a claim and we can process one and need to develop further information on the other that we are reinforcing the use of interim ratings. It starts getting money flowing to the veteran, it starts getting them access to health care, uhm, it ensures that they're uh in our system and getting work done. We're also looking at how do we segment claims? I heard some discussion from some of the panel members about those one issue claims that might move more quickly -- whether it's that hearing loss claim or just one single-issue -- and are currently piloting in several offices. How will that work? About 26% of our work is a single-issue claim and if we can move those along more quickly, will we allow ourselves a better focus, if you will, on those more complex claims -- whether it's a complex issue or whether it's a number of issues. Uhm, I talked a little about the pro-active phone development. We've heard some concerns about whether or not we're incentivizing or rewarding employees. I will tell you that as we reward employees, quality is always a part of the requirement for a reward to be given. But it's also about that -- I'll call it "less tangible monetary award" and it's that recognition of who your performers are and making sure that we're recognizing them for that effort. One of the initiatives that we're developing and the Secretary's interested in supporting, if you will, a Who's Who in VBA for VSRs and rating specialists that will allow us to recognize quarterly uh the top 25 in each of those categories and, at the annual level, with recognition from the Secretary in an effort to have people continue to stay jazzed and focused on we've got to get this job done. I would be remiss if I didn't mention some of the efforts that we're making in both technology, if you will, the VBMS -- the Veterans Benefits Management System. We are standing up an organization that brings VBA and uses, if you will, field users and the organization together to be focused on this work that will grow from the virtual regional office pilot that was just completed in Baltimore allowing us to change and pursue accurately the electronic claims processing system.
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: Well thank you for all of that. I'm especially happy to hear that you're -- that you're moving toward streamlined granting of claims or approval of claims in clear cut cases like hearing loss. Although I'm a little bit disappointed that, in 2008, Congress passed a law unanimously that was signed by President Bush that said "The Secretary shall issue this partial claims rating," changed the language from "may" to "shall" indicating the clear intent of Congress that when there's an undisputed severe disabling injury -- which I think hearing loss might fall under or a loss of a limb or paralysis or blindness or any number of other things that are clearly service connected and are not in dispute although there may be many other facets of the claim that are either not developed yet, they're needing longer ajudication -- but that "the Secretary shall award an immediate partial rating so that the money starts flowing to the veteran" that was passed unanimously and signed by the previous president and, two years later, I'm surprised that we're talking about being part way on the road to getting that done. I would hope that we would have been there already.
We could go on and on with other examples. That's due to the fact that John Hall prepares. He's paying attention in the other hearings and he's referencing Inspector General reports. It's nothing like the Senate VA Committee. And Hall is among the stars of the House VA Committee (others on the Democrat side would include Bob Filner, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Harry Teague and Debbie Halvorson -- on the Republican side, it would include Steve Buyer, Jerry Moran and John Boozman -- and I'm basing that on Committee performance, being able to question the witnesses and usually knowing a great deal more than the witnesses). Is there a star at the Veterans Affairs Dept? If so, they've yet to emerge and Barack Obama needs to figure out what exactly is going on and whether Shinseki is up to the job he's been appointed to.
The second panel was made up of advocates. There's not space for them in this snapshot; however, the American Legion's Ian DePlanque offered testimony and the American Legion has written about that and the hearing here. If I hear from friends with other organizations that they wrote about their advocate's testimony, we'll link to those in Monday's snapshot.
"We've been here even in the worst possible weather, in pouring rain and exhuasting heat," Joan Wile tells Clyde Haberman (New York Times) for his report on the weekly protest against the wars still held every Wednesday "on Fifth Avenue at the eastern entrance to Rockefeller Center" by the Grandmothers Against the War. Haberman reports this week saw the Grannies "330th consecutive Wednesday" protest. Heberman reports:
Anne Moy went there by bus from the Lower East Side. It was important to her, she said, to register her opposition to the wars. At 92, she was the oldest on the protest line. She beat Lillian Lifflander by two years. Jenny Heinz, 65, was another regular, even though she was in the midst of treatment for breast cancer. Bert Aubrey, 76, had to lean on a cane, his knees not what they used to be.
As so many rushed to walk -- no, run -- to run away from calling out the ongoing wars because a Democrat now occupies the White House, the Grandmothers Against the War have remained firm -- even with some of them having endorsed Barack. 330 Wednesdays (one Wednesday the police prevented the protest) speaks to commitment and so does protesting against what you know is wrong regardless of who is running the war. Joan Wile is also the author of Grandmothers Against the War: Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace.
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