VA customer relations training equates vets angry over care with … Oscar the Grouch

posted at 3:21 pm on August 27, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Needless to say, the Department of Veteran Affairs has had its public-relations challenges this year. The wait-list scandal cost Eric Shinseki his Cabinet post, and the families of dozens of dead veterans in Phoenix claim it cost the lives of those men, even though the government officially exonerated itself this week. A new report from the Philadelphia Inquirer shows that the VA has busied itself with an effort to cheer up veterans by asking its staff to think of them as … Oscar the Grouch?

The beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs depicted dissatisfied veterans as Oscar the Grouch in a recent internal training guide, and some vets and VA staffers said Tuesday that they feel trashed.

The cranky Sesame Street character who lives in a garbage can was used in reference to veterans who will attend town-hall events Wednesday in Philadelphia. …

The slide show, “What to Say to Oscar the Grouch – Dealing with Veterans During Town Hall Claims Clinics,” was shown to employees who will staff those events.

Most slides touch on routine instructions, including dressing professionally, being polite, showing empathy, and maintaining eye contact.

But the “grouch” theme is maintained throughout.

About a dozen slides include pictures of the misanthropic Muppet in the can he calls home. In one, a sign reading “CRANKY” hangs from the rim. In another, Oscar’s face is flanked by the words “100% GROUCHY, DEAL WITH IT.”

Referring to veterans unhappy with access to their care as Oscar the Grouch might in fact be part of the entire problem at the VA. Customer-service training is always a challenge because it has to engage staffers and capture their imagination a bit, but … Oscar the Grouch? One has to assume that most of these staffers had put a few years between themselves and their Sesame Street age. Forget for a moment the condescending tone that sets in regard to the patients — it’s almost as insulting to the staff.

The larger problem, though, is that the program appears to have assumed that the only problems were the crankiness of their clientele. The Inquirer notes that the training program appears to be a few years old, so it predates the current scandal, but the issue of poor service to veterans extends back for more than a decade. Even the VA’s executives admitted that the problem existed, even if they refused to admit its extent or its scope, and certainly fibbed about making progress in resolving it. Their patients weren’t cranky, they were sick or injured, ignored, and forgotten. This training underscores how the VA’s first priority has been the VA and not the veterans whom they are supposed to serve.

In some cases, though, the analogy may make some sense. For instance, this Florida veteran is about to lose his house to foreclosure while waiting for the VA to make a determination on whether his service injury qualifies for disability coverage. Willie Butts has been waiting for nine years, and still hasn’t gotten a decision. In the meantime, the bank is ready to foreclose because Butts can’t work enough with his pain to cover his house payments:

If the VA waits much longer, Willie Butts may have to live on the street just like Oscar the Grouch, too. Too bad the VA isn’t moving with alacrity to prevent Butts from being “100% GROUCHY,” or even dealing with the reality of why veterans are unhappy in the first place.

I reached out to Pete Hegseth of Concerned Veterans for America, who said that this exposes “the dirty little secret about how many VA officials feel about veterans.” They see veterans as the problem, not the clients. “If veterans were seen as customers, they wouldn’t be seen as Oscar the Grouch,” Pete said. “This feeds the fears about how veterans believe they are perceived at the VA.” He assured me that CV4A will not let this slide, either.


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I am outraged, and it’s not fake this time.

faraway on August 27, 2014 at 3:26 PM

This training underscores how the VA’s first priority has been the VA and not the veterans whom they are supposed to serve.

The federal bureaucracy has a hostile attitude to the American people.

rbj on August 27, 2014 at 3:28 PM

The federal bureaucracy has a hostile attitude to the American people.

rbj on August 27, 2014 at 3:28 PM

Understatement of the year!

texgal on August 27, 2014 at 3:40 PM

If the Vets were portrayed as Oscar the Crouch then the VA should be portrayed as Big Bird Brain!!

Deano1952 on August 27, 2014 at 3:43 PM

The wait-list scandal cost Eric Shinseki his Cabinet post, and the families of dozens of dead veterans in Phoenix claim it cost the lives of those men, even though the government officially exonerated itself this week.

The VA to vets: “Shut up you ingrates, we’ll treat you when we get to you.”

Ward Cleaver on August 27, 2014 at 3:46 PM

he VA to vets: “Shut up you ingrates, we’ll treat you when we get to you if you’re still living.”

Ward Cleaver on August 27, 2014 at 3:46 PM

Qualifier added!

Deano1952 on August 27, 2014 at 3:50 PM

Cut ALL funding to PBS, STAT!

SailorMark on August 27, 2014 at 3:51 PM

There is a simple fix to this (ok, not so simple, but it will work).

Instead of allocating money on an annual basis to the VA, especially the health services branch, they get paid like a retail sale enterprise. No customers? No pay.

This would require allowing veterans to choose their healthcare provider, via a debit card. So if they, the customer, don’t like the service, they can take their business elsewhere.

As it is right now, if not a single veteran showed up at a VA hospital for a year, the hospitals would still be funded, and due to no backlog, receive large bonuses.

What a racket, eh?

BobMbx on August 27, 2014 at 3:51 PM

“If veterans were seen as customers, they wouldn’t be seen as Oscar the Grouch,” Pete said.

But, it’s a government bureaucracy – they have no customers. Because the veterans have nowhere else to go, generally. Those aren’t customers, those are a captive audience.

GWB on August 27, 2014 at 3:52 PM

BobMbx on August 27, 2014 at 3:51 PM

Exactly.

GWB on August 27, 2014 at 3:52 PM

Recovery Summer – maybe next year. kcewa on August 27, 2014 at 3:53 PM

I once saw a restaurant that advertised, “FREE BEER TOMORROW!” Something just made me think of that.

Deano1952 on August 27, 2014 at 3:56 PM

Really? Why, why does ANYONE think a fat-assed, lazy, good-for-nothing-else bureaucrat would think any different of a vet? Of course they would think they are like Oscar. The vets get in the way of doing their job, which is playing with their navels, extending their turfs, and viewing pornography. And all taxpayers should be damn glad we’ve got them!

Ya think any lazy government employees read Hot Air? Talk to me goose!

Chuck Ef on August 27, 2014 at 4:02 PM

Where’s the sympathy for the VA federal employees? Imagine if you were simply trying to do your job and a bunch of old guys came in every day demanding stuff from you.

As a lifelong selfless public servant I can attest that we are grossly overworked and extremely underpaid, yet we still manage to always greet you unappreciative peasants with a smile and helpful attitude.

Frank Lib on August 27, 2014 at 4:02 PM

I reached out to Pete Hegseth of Concerned Veterans for America, who said that this exposes “the dirty little secret about how many VA officials feel about veterans.” They see veterans as the problem, not the clients.

Why should the VA be different from the rest of the government? My wife had to go to the Social Security office to fix some paperwork issues with her mother’s SS account. It took her most of a day and everyone she talked to was surly and unhelpful. I asked her what she was expecting. It wasn’t as if she was a customer or something. Those people got paid whether they treated her like dirt or not.

Just the other day I went to post office to pick up some mail. Same reaction: annoyance at me bothering them when they were drinking their coffee.

Some civil servants are great, but I suspect it’s because they’re nice people and wouldn’t act any other way. It’s not as if the job demands it of them.

PackerBronco on August 27, 2014 at 4:07 PM

VA customer relations training equates vets angry over care with … Oscar the Grouch

Bunch o’ whiners!

I’ve seen several posts on the internet over the years about how good VA health services were. Guess those that didn’t get proper care either died or were to ill to type anything.

Keep in mind all of this isn’t merely bureaucratic incompetence. It’s quite deliberate…shades of things to come with U.S. Socialized Medicine/Obama”care”.

They know they’re out of money, so naturally they’ll cut corners wherever they figure it won’t really hurt them politically. I think they’re testing the waters so to speak, and figuring out how to handle damage control when people can’t get immediate (or any) health care.

Many folks out there won’t feel sympathy for veterans that can’t get good healthcare if they can’t, either.

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 27, 2014 at 4:07 PM

Frank Lib on August 27, 2014 at 4:02 PM

You funny.

SailorMark on August 27, 2014 at 4:09 PM

Frank Lib on August 27, 2014 at 4:02 PM

This has got to be Ed or Allah baiting us!!

Deano1952 on August 27, 2014 at 4:12 PM

So let me get this right, they get to be cranky because someone is making them do their jobs. Just another government monopoly telling those that served that they can take it or leave it with limited customer service. So what has changed? I really hurt for those that depend on the VA.

crosshugger on August 27, 2014 at 4:24 PM

This doesn’t surprise me in the last. The “customers” of any government office are viewed as an unavoidable problem. There really is a screw loose with a lot of these people who just don’t understand why these people cannot understand why it takes five years to adjudicate their claim! We are shorthanded, We are allowed by law 12.5 minutes for break every morning and afternoon, blah blah.

In my years of government work three of those clients killed themselves, in part due to the frustration of dealing with the uncaring monolith. Nothing ever changed.

PattyJ on August 27, 2014 at 4:29 PM

and I’ve been trying 3 weeks to actually get someone on phone up here in Bangor Maine.
they have a habit of making ou leave a msg and they auto-schedule an appt and mail you the info.
and it always conflicts with something for me.
trying to get hold of them in person to make an appt.
they are about to see a real grouch.

dmacleo on August 27, 2014 at 4:41 PM

The VA will never change no matter what.It’s an affirmative action employer.Besides the VA is not free.They means test.Go in one and smell the 50 years of shed skin.Just don’t touch anything.

docflash on August 27, 2014 at 4:41 PM

I once saw a restaurant that advertised, “FREE BEER TOMORROW!” Something just made me think of that.

Deano1952 on August 27, 2014 at 3:56 PM

There was a place in Jerusalem called the Underground that used to used to serve free beer for 20 minutes every night. I think from like 8:50 to 9:10. One glass, as much as you could drink in 20 minutes plus a full glass at the end of it. I think I made it to 7. There was a skinny Danish guy that did 9. I ended up making out with a Kiwi girl on the cobblestone in front of her hostel in the old city, and getting lost in the Arab Quarter trying to find mine.

Arnold Yabenson on August 27, 2014 at 4:43 PM

they are about to see a real grouch.

dmacleo on August 27, 2014 at 4:41 PM

Apply some makeup to appear infested with puss-filled abscesses, cough a lot, and speak loudly. Oh, and no Right Guard for a month prior.

Thats like a SpeedPass at Disney World.

BobMbx on August 27, 2014 at 4:45 PM

This has got to be Ed or Allah baiting us!!

Deano1952 on August 27, 2014 at 4:12 PM

Whoever it is, they’ve got the bustier on backwards. Again.

CurtZHP on August 27, 2014 at 5:01 PM

Hey, at least they didn’t refer to our vets as terRorists and azzholes — so they’ve at least got that going for them …

ShainS on August 27, 2014 at 5:07 PM

“War on Vets” and Sesame Street.

Sven on August 27, 2014 at 5:12 PM

IOW, Federal workers (I use the term loosely) are all Barack Obama.

formwiz on August 27, 2014 at 5:12 PM

I don’t doubt the stories but this is my experience.

I was treated so badly at the dental clinic that I just left and had the work I WANTED performed privately and of course I paid for it. I am satisfied with the results.

As for the medical service I have almost no complaints. I am usually met by a person with a good attitude and all my concerns are dealt with in a timely and professional manner at the VA in Providence RI.

So I guess it can be done in some places.

FOWG1 on August 27, 2014 at 5:12 PM