The most powerful man on Earth let out a primal scream last week while talking about the office of Veterans Affairs.
He’s not the only one screaming, but his screams pack a lot more punch than yours and mine and the thousands — tens of thousands? — of veterans in Northeast Ohio who have felt jerked around by the VA.
Few complaints I’ve heard are as troubling as the one Barack Obama said he “will not stand for” — allegations that VA officials delayed treatment for returning service members in an attempt to improve their facility’s track record.
One report said as many as 40 veterans died while on the wait list at a VA center in Phoenix as the hospital tried to hide a long backlog of cases.
Long backlogs are not the least bit surprising to those of us who have heard numerous stories about the way the VA in our area seems to butcher relatively simple matters.
A few days before the president spoke, I received an email from Dean Ab-Hugh, who lives in the little Wayne County town of Apple Creek.
I have never met the man, but I know from exchanging occasional emails over the years that he’s a clever guy with a great sense of humor and no tolerance for BS. He brought me a VA experience brimming with the latter.
Ab-Hugh’s ears are shot. During 20 years in the Navy, two of them in Vietnam, he was exposed to too many decibels while working around jets and explosives. So, recently he headed to the VA in Canton, where, he reports, the folks were “really nice.”
“They scheduled a hearing test in Cleveland, and the people in the office and doing the testing in Cleveland were also very nice and professional.
“I got my hearing aid and was told to file for disability — not for the money, but because then the VA would supply my batteries, etc.”
He filed, attaching a copy of his discharge medical record showing the hearing loss, and soon was fitted for a hearing aid. Here’s what happened next.
•?He received a letter from the VA in Cleveland saying he would have to report for a scheduled hearing test. He wrote back and said he had already taken the test, qualified for help and received his hearing aid.
•?A month later, he got another letter from the VA in Cleveland, this one telling him he had to go to Parma for a scheduled hearing test. He promptly repeated his original response.
•?He then got another letter from the VA in Cleveland, this one saying he was scheduled for a hearing test in Cleveland, and if he didn’t come, his disability papers could be revoked. Once again, he sat down and batted out a letter saying he had taken the test and was already wearing his aid.
•?Finally, figuring nothing he did with his keyboard would make any difference, he moved his fingers to his phone, calling the VA’s “consumer affairs” line in Cleveland. He called several times, each time being routed to “a phone that is probably buried in an abandoned missile silo somewhere in Kansas, because nobody ever answers the phone, nor do they respond to your inquiry.”
Ab-Hugh was just getting warmed up.
“The main problem with the VA lies with the troglodytes and cretins in the back rooms, who routinely send out form letters to increase their own paperwork and validate their job status. In no case is their name and phone number on the paperwork that they send out. …
“I’m convinced that every letter veterans send to the VA goes directly to a shredder.”
His suggested solution probably isn’t practical, but typing it was no doubt cathartic:
“What the VA in general needs is a match to burn all of their form letters, a toilet plunger to flush all of the brain-dead employees out of the offices and a requirement that every letter and form sent out have the actual name and phone number of the person sending it.”
The last part of his rant raises an excellent point. Why can’t a government employee who sends orders to a citizen include his or her name and contact information?
If that were the case, the veteran wouldn’t have to bring somebody new up to speed every time he called or wrote, and VA employees wouldn’t have to start from scratch with every phone call or letter.
Of course, not including the writer’s name and number makes life easier for employees hoping to dodge any chaos they might have wrongly wrought. But I’m pretty sure that’s not supposed to be the goal.
Fixing the VA will require a whole lot more than that, of course. But let’s start small. Let’s have local VA employees put their names on letters to local veterans. Any problem with that?
Holly Barnett-Reba, the spokeswoman for the Regional VA Benefits Office in Cleveland, did not respond to my inquiry.
Probably too busy generating unsigned paperwork.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31.