Great news: VA overpaying misclassified workers by millions … and can’t fix it

posted at 10:01 am on July 11, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

The VA’s defenders insist that the wait-list scandal demonstrates a need for better funding, but how does the agency ensure that its current funding levels are used efficiently? After all, the VA has seen a 78% increase in funding over the last six budget cycles, and its budget has grown more on a percentage basis than any other Cabinet-level agency during that time. All of that cash got used properly and effectively, right?

Wrong. Huffington Post’s David Wood does solid work in analyzing a recent audit of the VA, which found that as many as 13,000 employees have been misclassified at higher pay rates. Not only that, but even now that the VA has identified the problem, there’s no way to fix it … at least under current law (via Jim Geraghty):

The scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs is systematically overpaying clerks, administrators and other support staff, according to internal audits, draining tens of millions of dollars that could be used instead to ease the VA’s acute shortage of doctors and nurses.

The jobs of some 13,000 VA support staff have been flagged by auditors as potentially misclassified, in many cases resulting in inflated salaries that have gone uncorrected for as long as 14 years.

Sure, but once they found the problem, the VA’s expert managers and executives at least stopped the bleeding, right? Right? Wrong again! In fact, they accelerated the practice and obstructed a required review of hiring practices:

Rather than moving quickly to correct these costly errors, VA officials two years ago halted a broad internal review mandated by federal law. As a result, the overpayments continue.

Moreover, in the two years since thousands of misclassified jobs were identified, hundreds of additional positions have been filled at improperly high salaries. Internal VA documents obtained by The Huffington Post show that between September 2013 and May 2014, for instance, overpayments in annual salaries for the latter jobs alone came to $24.4 million, not counting benefits.

In May alone, senior VA classification specialists identified 284 probably misclassified positions newly posted on the federal jobs site, USAJobs. Once filled, those jobs would result in estimated overpayments of $3.3 million per year.

And now for the pièce de resistance. The VA can easily reclassify these employees, but they can’t lower their salary, thanks to both federal law and their union contract:

Groovy. And maybe all this would be worth it if veterans got timely and expert medical care. After all, just the May overage alone would have paid for twenty specialists, as Wood notes later in his analysis. Instead, Melinda Henneberger reported on Congressional hearings about the care received by veterans battling combat-related physical and mental illness, testimony that was provided by their families … because the veterans committed suicide after being rebuffed by the VA:

Clay Hunt, a Marine who fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan, took his own life in 2011. His parents, Richard and Susan Selke, added more to the “what not to do” list.

●Tell someone who has at last found an antidepressant that works well that he has to change drugs because there’s no generic version available.

●Once that hurdle is cleared, tell him the VA pharmacy doesn’t stock that drug, but it will be mailed to him in seven to 10 days. Ignore all medical advice against stopping anti-depressants cold.

●Now tell him the prescription can’t be refilled because it was written in Colorado rather than Houston, where he’s just moved — and thus he must start all over in the system, and wait to be reevaluated.

●Classify him as only entitled to 30 percent disability pay even though he is so compromised by the symptoms of his post-traumatic stress that he isn’t able to work.

●Lose his paperwork for 18 months, and then five weeks after his death, finally review his appeal and conclude that he should be on full disability. Notify his survivors of the good news.

Be sure to read it all.

Update: Count me in on Melinda’s approach to reform, too:


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

What a gig…..

Getting paid to watch our heroes die…

Electrongod on July 11, 2014 at 10:07 AM

As bad as this is, what we know about government corruption and incompetence is dwarfed by what we don’t know.

Fenris on July 11, 2014 at 10:09 AM

Firings forthcoming.

Heh.

BKeyser on July 11, 2014 at 10:09 AM

Yeah, a soap salesman with no authority to fire senior executives is really going to turn the VA around. /

Happy Nomad on July 11, 2014 at 10:09 AM

Ban public unions!!!

ladyingray on July 11, 2014 at 10:11 AM

James A. Garfield strikes again.

Flange on July 11, 2014 at 10:12 AM

Rather than moving quickly to correct these costly errors, VA officials two years ago halted a broad internal review mandated by federal law.

Which would mean they’re breaking the law.

Now, if laws meant anything in regards to federal employees at any level this would be a big deal.

I do have a great idea though: How about we put aszholes like this in charge of running the healthcare system for everyone, not just vets.

Bishop on July 11, 2014 at 10:19 AM

I’m struggling to compose myself after reading what happened to Clay Hunt. And thinking this is multiplied how many times over and over?

While Dem elected officials cry about the HL SCOTUS decision last week and the “war on women” – didn’t someone introduce legislation to get around it? – these true outrages just continue to get the ho-hum treatment.

When will enough be enough?

ncinca on July 11, 2014 at 10:19 AM

See? All they really need is more money!

rightside on July 11, 2014 at 10:19 AM

And now for the pièce de resistance. The VA can easily reclassify these employees, but they can’t lower their salary, thanks to both federal law and their union contract:

Before I even got to this line, I knew unions had to be involved.
Also, funny how they take federal law seriously when their pay is involved, but when it comes to admin workers following the law in their daily work life, they seem to follow their own instead. (See IRS.)

31giddyup on July 11, 2014 at 10:22 AM

@JillDLawrence Thanks! Sorry to say but I think they have to bring in the bulldozer and start over.

— Melinda Henneberger (@MelindaDC) July 11, 2014

Yep. Burn.It.Down

ROCnPhilly on July 11, 2014 at 10:27 AM

Forget the faux “War on Women” it’s a real “War on U.S. Veterans.

31giddyup on July 11, 2014 at 10:28 AM

I’m struggling to compose myself after reading what happened to Clay Hunt. And thinking this is multiplied how many times over and over?

ncinca on July 11, 2014 at 10:19 AM

More proof at just how evil Eric Shinseki is. Who could have guessed that saying mean things about Bush and Rumsfeld wasn’t qualification enough to run the second largest government organization?

And now we’re getting a soap salesman with zero experience in running a healthcare organization. But I betcha I know what company is going to be the exclusive supplier to VA facilities!

Happy Nomad on July 11, 2014 at 10:30 AM

See? All they really need is more money!

rightside on July 11, 2014 at 10:19 AM

And no one in the GOPe can articulate the abject failure of the Left’s 50 year mantra, one trick pony, go-to stragegery ,of “Increase funding”??????

socalcon on July 11, 2014 at 10:32 AM

…guess who’s going to be really really mad…when he reads about this?

JugEarsButtHurt on July 11, 2014 at 10:34 AM

Update: Count me in on Melinda’s approach to reform, too:

That’s what I’ve been saying for a while now. I agree. They all have to go.

dogsoldier on July 11, 2014 at 10:46 AM

VA officials two years ago halted a broad internal review mandated by federal law.

Typical of this administration. Can’t follow any law. Laws are for the peons.

I’m sure everyone involved will go to jail./

Patriot Vet on July 11, 2014 at 10:46 AM

Courtesy of TownHall.com (http://townhall.com/tipsheet/guybenson/2014/05/23/flashback-dems-praised-va-in-selling-obamacare-n1841896)

Paul Krugman: “we actually have a real live case of impressive cost control in health care: the VA system”

And you wonder why the rest of his opinions are crazy?

Howard Dean: “The Public Option is “just like the Veterans Administration.”

YEAAARRRGH!!

SLATE on the Veterans Administration: “The Triumph of Socialized Medicine. Right here in the USA.”

’nuff said

White House REALITY CHECK: “Vets’ health care is safe and sound” http://www.whitehouse.gov/realitycheck/6 pic.twitter.com/RO8zRudmuh

Yeah, the White House is the first place I would go for a “reality check”….

Durbin: “VA Is Government Health Care; Concerns About Delays and Rationing are Fictitious”

Turban Durbin?

I guess Øbamacare is more like the VA than we thought.

DimsdalePiranha on July 11, 2014 at 10:48 AM

Imagine how quickly this would have been fixed had the error resulted in underpayment.

byepartisan on July 11, 2014 at 10:49 AM

Know what we need? Gov’t doing more things.

It’s absolute horseshite that the private sector is a bunch of greedy, unaccountable bast*rds. Government workers are the greedy, unaccountable bast*rds. Government should be running the court system and some oversight functions and the military and little else.

This is a phucking disgrace.

BuckeyeSam on July 11, 2014 at 10:50 AM

Notice how the scandals keep recycling themselves, some have tighter timetables than others. But none of them get resolved.

BuckeyeSam on July 11, 2014 at 10:52 AM

Notice how the scandals keep recycling themselves, some have tighter timetables than others. But none of them get resolved.

BuckeyeSam on July 11, 2014 at 10:52 AM

It’s JugEars version of the John Wooden’s UCLA Four-Corner Offense that ran the time out on the opposition.

socalcon on July 11, 2014 at 10:55 AM

I know theres many like me who can use the VA for a lot of stuff who choose not to in order to free up resources for people like this poor man and his family.
sadly it seems it just does not help.
literally have tears in my eyes reading about that soldier.

dmacleo on July 11, 2014 at 10:57 AM

“War on Vets”

Sven on July 11, 2014 at 11:00 AM

Look For The Union Label…

formwiz on July 11, 2014 at 11:11 AM

I just called the VA because I have a recurring appointment this month. I have these appointments every 3 months. The last two times I haven’t recieved a notice in the mail, a phone call and it also doesn’t show up in my on-line appointments page. In the past I always recieved a notice in the mail a phone call reminder and it was on-line. I asked the lady why this is happening and she said it just happens to some people.

“War on Vets”

Sven on July 11, 2014 at 11:14 AM

“War on Vets” indeed! Haven’t you fought enough?

ncinca on July 11, 2014 at 11:20 AM

Mr. Morrissey, you’re video is overlaid on a paragraph.

lineholder on July 11, 2014 at 11:22 AM

Mr. Morrissey, you’re video is overlaid on a paragraph.

lineholder on July 11, 2014 at 11:22 AM

Never mind. I thought at first that it was obstructing the text of the paragraph, but it isn’t.

lineholder on July 11, 2014 at 11:24 AM

Sven on July 11, 2014 at 11:14 AM

Make a screen copy of your appointment dates and save it in a file. Also know that under HIPAA you have the right to request copies of your medical record. They can charge you for it, but by law it is to be a nominal fee.

lineholder on July 11, 2014 at 11:32 AM

Make a screen copy of your appointment dates and save it in a file. Also know that under HIPAA you have the right to request copies of your medical record. They can charge you for it, but by law it is to be a nominal fee.

lineholder on July 11, 2014 at 11:32 AM

Already did that and I can actually see my records on-line, that part works.

Sven on July 11, 2014 at 11:44 AM

Make a screen copy of your appointment dates and save it in a file. Also know that under HIPAA you have the right to request copies of your medical record. They can charge you for it, but by law it is to be a nominal fee.

line holder on July 11, 2014 at 11:32 AM

Hi Lineholder. Yep, it’s always a good idea to get hard copies of your records every six months or once a year (depending upon how active your records are). There’s that possibility of computers “eating” them. See: Lois Lerner/e-mails/IRS

31giddyup on July 11, 2014 at 11:54 AM

Well, I’m sure there’s at least one VA employee somewhere who was misclassified and is actually being underpaid.

So there’s that.

Marcola on July 11, 2014 at 12:20 PM

Simple strategy.

They throw the increasing budgets in the money pit so they can continue to claim that their perpetual dereliction is due to funding shortfalls.

Otherwise, they’d have to work.

Tsar of Earth on July 11, 2014 at 12:41 PM

One of the things that the Dems demonized Romney for saying:
“I like being able to fire people.”

Tells you all you need to know about unions and bureaucracy in America.

AesopFan on July 11, 2014 at 12:56 PM

Where is McCain ?

wheelgun on July 11, 2014 at 1:00 PM

You can be sure the “misclassification” was deliberate. A bureaucracy exists primarily to aggrandize the bureaucrats running it and, of course, their families, relatives and friends. Veterans? They are only useful idiots.”Let them eat cake”. After all, without veterans, it would be hard to explain the need for a “Veterans Administration”–although , undoubtedly, Obama could think up a slick explanation (calling everyone who disagreed with his ‘logic”–”racist.”)

But there is one cure for bureaucratic corruption (albeit the French prefer the guillotine)and it’s called the Manila hemp rope. It requires little assembly and the instructions are simple: Form a loop, stick head inside loop and drop.

MaiDee on July 11, 2014 at 1:47 PM

While veterans suffer and die under the malfeasance of the VA you can be be sure NO such similar treatment is being afforded to MS13 gangsters illegally sneaking across the border disguised as “children”. Steaks, shrimps, condos, citizenship and Democratic registration awaits these “gentlemen”.

MaiDee on July 11, 2014 at 2:02 PM

This all has to be intentional, even the federal government can not be this stupid and incompetent,

Techster64 on July 11, 2014 at 2:06 PM

What a gig…..

Getting paid to watch our heroes die…

Electrongod on July 11, 2014 at 10:07 AM

These are Democratics. They don’t see them as heroes, they hate the military, active or retired. For them the abuse is a feature, not a problem.

slickwillie2001 on July 11, 2014 at 2:12 PM

The bad news is that these practices are not unique to the VA.

Pick any government agency; VA; EPA; IRS; HHS; you name it, and you will find that it is full of overpaid bureaucrats that fail to perform and have no reason to change.

Remember how the “regulators” that were supposed to be keeping and eye on Wall Street completely missed the meltdown because they were watching porn on their government furnished computers?

Guess what? Nothing has changed. If anything, Dodd-Frank has removed what little oversight there was.

We’re screwed, people!

schmuck281 on July 12, 2014 at 1:27 AM