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Yes, Another Veterans Administration Scandal. Again.

Internationally recognized signal requesting help

Internationally recognized signal requesting help

It is the season of fun and jollity and celebration and family togetherness and all that good stuff, and what a bummer, House the Homeless is talking gloom and doom. Here’s the thing: the veterans who cope with these obstacles do not get a day off. Their pain and distress exist every day of the year, while the agencies set up to help them, paid for by the already overstressed taxpayers of America, perform abysmally.

Thousands of veterans are on the streets or in shelters, while others are poised to become homeless if they do not soon receive the help promised to them by Uncle Sam when they signed on the dotted line and raised their oath-taking hands.

In mid-2012 the Veterans Administration opened the Homeless Hotline Call Center, at a cost of $3 million per year. Its mission was to provide homeless and at-risk vets with information about housing, healthcare, training programs, and employment opportunities. Sadly, the Office of the Inspector General found discrepancies which WNDU-TV formatted as bullet points for easy comprehension:

 

  • The OIG found that of the nearly 80,000 phone calls made to the hotline, there were roughly 40,500 missed opportunities…
  • The Inspector General could not account for a significant amount of the counselors’ time.
  • Counselors often did not log in or did not spend the entire day logged into the Call Center telephone system.
  • Counselors who worked the night shift were not logged into the telephone system and were unavailable to answer calls an average of 4 hours each night.

Other news sources offer details and reactions. For FreeBeacon.com, CJ Ciaramella notes that in fiscal 2013, the first full year of operation, the hotline failed miserably. Hotline staff was unable to even answer more than 21,000 calls from homeless veterans. Another 3,000 provided all the required information to be referred to a VA medical facility, but never received referrals. (50,000 referrals were made, but as for quality control monitoring or followup – forget it.)

Apparently, that $3 million bought a slew of answering machines and not much else, except for 60 so-called counselors who have better things to do than actually answer calls or provide counseling. The “missed opportunities” occur when callers are not referred to medical facilities, or when cases are closed for no discernible reason. Arnaldo Rodgers of Veterans News Now reports that in 2013, nearly 80,000 incoming calls were logged by the system.

A bit of rough math shows that to be 219 calls per day. Divided by 60 workers, that’s 3.65 or nearly 4 entire phone calls per day to be handled by each counselor. Sure, people get days off – which might raise the number to perhaps 6 calls per day for the ones on duty. So, this big, elaborate, expensive system invented by the most powerful entity on earth, the U.S. government, cannot manage to have the needs of 6 clients per day handled by the average employee? Come on, that’s only 3 before lunch and 3 more between then and quitting time.

It Gets Worse

Apparently, that paltry accomplishment is too much to ask, because some 21,000 callers never even got as far as a human contact, but were left to tell their tales of woe to answering machines. So they left messages asking for return calls, 13,000 of which were never made because “messages were inaudible or callers didn’t leave contact information.” Really? Really?

Sure, inaudible messages happen to the best of us – especially when cell phones are involved. But here is a pertinent question. Doesn’t modern telephone technology – and Uncle Sam can afford the best – provide a method of determining from what number a call was placed? We bet it does.

If the caller is too sick or weak to speak up properly and leave a coherent message, it just might be a high-priority call that needs to be answered with the utmost haste. Maybe the troubled veteran is operating on 30% lung capacity, or has PTSD or a head injury, or suicidal intentions, or didn’t get his lips sewn back on correctly. If the vet can’t be easily heard or understood – what is to stop the alleged “counselor” at other end from calling back?

“Shameful” is Not Too Strong a Word

The title of counselor implies a certain amount of sympathy and understanding. When a message does not include callback information, what prevents the “counselor” from retrieving the phone number from the all-knowing machine and calling back? Is it laziness? Are they playing video games or watching porn? Do they have a punitive attitude toward the veterans whose calls go unreturned, thinking it serves them right for not leaving a proper message?

Let’s give everybody, including ourselves, a holiday gift by holding lawmakers responsible to fix this. No, not just throw more taxpayers’ money at the VA, like the $17 billion emergency bill in July. No. Somebody needs to figure out how to make these people do their jobs. If the most powerful government on earth can’t keep a bunch of bureaucrats at their desks, engaging in productive activity, then something is incredibly, unconscionably, inconceivably wrong.

Reactions?

Source: “Homeless veteran hotline audit reveals multiple failures”, WNDU.com, 12/11/14
Source: “Busy Signal: Thousands of Homeless Veterans Couldn’t Reach VA Call Center”, FreeBeacon.com, 12/15/14
Source: “Hotline to Help Homeless Veterans Falls Short”, VeteransNewsNow.com, 12/15/14
Image by Torley