February 22, 2011
The Honorable Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Washington D C
Dear Mr. Secretary:
How did this happen at the Dayton VA Medical Center? How could multiple employees allow another employee, Dr. Pemberton in particular, to provide health care to America’s Veterans using criminally negligent unsanitary methods and no one, not one person was moved to stop him from doing so? How did this happen in a facility that was created to fulfill President Lincoln's promise "To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan" by serving and honoring the men and women who are America's Veterans“?
Well, I have my opinion and I’d like to share it with you, Sir.
At the Dayton VA so much energy is expended trying to deliver the minimum amount of services necessary to meet the letter of VHA policy while simultaneously violating the spirit of the same policies, something like this was bound to happen. This is not a finding of guilt of all employees at the Dayton VA. As I have written previously, there are literally hundreds of great employees providing services here and they are just as heartsick about these revelations, if not more so, than the Veterans who have been exposed. Watching their peers mistreat America’s Veterans while being concerned with their income streams and providing for their families has created a cognitive dissonance that can easily be seen in their faces on a daily basis. The knowledge that even the Director couldn’t care less and is in it only for the money hurts them as much as it hurts our Veterans.
Over the past five (5) years since Guy Richardson has been the Director I have petitioned him on several occasions for an increase in the pay Veterans receive for Incentive therapy (IT) which was $1.50 per hour and Compensated Therapy (CWT). Which was $7.00 per hour. Mr. Richardson fought me tooth and nail for over two years incessantly finding outlandish reasons, justified by archaic readings of policy to deny this increase. Finally, after two years he reluctantly relented and allowed the increase, he raised IT to $2.10, a sixty-cent raise and CWT to $7.70 per hour, a seventy-cent increase. Policy dictates that IT pay may not exceed 50% of the minimum wage in the presiding state. In Ohio the rate is $7.30 per hour which means he could have raised it to $3.30 per hour. He choose $2.10! At the same time he was vigorously waging battle to deny even this modest increase Mr. Richardson was receiving close to $200,000.00 per year in income and additionally he received thousands of dollars in annual bonus’s. Over the five and an half years Guy Richardson has been the Director here he has received over one-million dollars in salary and close to seventy-thousand dollars in annual bonus’s yet he could not see the need to increase IT pay or CWT pay more than seventy cents per hour and adamantly fought my efforts, dedicating hours upon hours to thwart my request. Had Mr. Richardson expended half the amount of time overseeing his staff as he did trying to defeat my appeal for additional funds for veterans maybe, just maybe he could have halted the spread of the potential infection of blood born pathogens to our Veterans. His primacy is always “How can I give Veterans less and stay within VHA policy“. This prevailing “Us Against Them” mentality is so determined that it transparently dominates every priority for this Director and some of his staff who religiously follow his lead in a “Jim Jones‘ kind of way.
Effective January 1, 2011 Mr. Richardson reduced the amount of travel pay a Veteran receives to come to appointments at the Dayton VA. Last year if you lived in the county and had an appointment you received $8.30 in travel pay. Now, it is strictly issued by mileage at the VHA legally permissible $0.45.5 per mile. Now, let’s look at this logic: My home is 2.8 miles from the Dayton VA, as the crow flies. But, Veterans are not “crows and neither do we fly to get to the Center“. I, like many Vets, utilize public transportation. It takes me three buses to get to the Dayton VA from my home. The bus fare here is $1.75 plus another $.25 for a transfer, which can only be used once. This means I have to pay another $1.75 to ride the third bus to arrive at the Medical Center. Total cost is $3.75 to get to my appointment and the same amount to get back home for a grand total of $7.50. By Mr. Richardson’s calculations, again using the minimum amount that he is allowed to pay because I live 2.8 miles from the Center I receive less than $1.50 in travel pay. It’s not even enough to get there much less get back home. And…………this makes sense to him. I repeat, he strains to find ways within VHA policy that will permit him to provide less, violating the spirit of the policies while meeting the letter of the same. When it comes to his responsibility as a Medical Center Director, if he paid as much attention to the letter of his duties the dental clinic problem would not be major leading news story in every evening broadcast in America, even CNN ran a seven minute story about the Dayton VA.
There is a translucent pattern here but if you look closely it becomes pellucid: let me help make it completely transparent for you Sir.
The Vocational Rehabilitation Department at the Dayton VA has approximately eight (8) Veterans currently working in jobs contracted to their department. I have written Mr. Richardson so many letters about how they are failing to meet their job responsibilities that I have lost count. I’ve met with Mr. Richardson on at least four occasions, two of those meetings was on this subject matter alone. Each time he promised me he would repair this problem, shook my hand, looked me in the eye, smiled and assured me that he would “take care of it”. He makes great eye contact when he lies to you. Nothing has changed. Not one single thing in the five years he has been at the helm! The Bedford Mass VA has over 800 Veterans working in their CWT program, Houston VA has over 500 Veterans working in their CWT program, Dayton VA has 8 Veterans working in their CWT program. This has been the case since before Mr. Richardson arrived on the Center and like the Dental Clinic’s 18 years of malfeasance, the Vocational Rehabilitation Department is guilty of the same. Also, like the Dental Clinic neglect, nobody holds anybody accountable for failing to do their jobs! No one, in Voc Rehab does a single thing all day everyday except meet with Veterans and project upon them how lazy we are, how much of a manipulator we are and how we are not really trying to find a job when the truth of the matter is the staff is projecting their very own failures onto our Veterans. They “act” oblivious to the current economic downfall and demand that Veterans look for non-existent jobs. When the Veteran falls short they then use those failures as an excuse to deny IT or CWT benefits and have the audacity to document this obfuscation in their files. The real truth is they are not leaving their offices nor making any effort to produce contracts for the Veteran. Some counselors have even instructed Veterans to go to the State civilian job center to look for a job. If all of the Veterans followed this advice why do we need to pay them for this instruction? They could just as easily hang a sign on the wall and become unemployed themselves, saving the VA thousands in payroll costs!
After five years of complaining about this I have been given a part-time 4 hours a day CWT picking up cigarette butts around the Center. My background is as a professional, I sold Insurance for most of my adult life. This was a sincere effort to humiliate me in hopes that I would refuse and lay the foundation for Guy Richardson to say “he doesn’t really want a job” but it didn’t work. I accepted the position and I report to work on time, everyday and I pick up cigarette butts around the center. If there was a position available picking up duck droppings with my bare hands on the center I am sure he would have assigned it to me and claimed, with great eye contact, it was not with prior calculation.
We desperately need your help Sir. I have written you and written you until my fingers are worn out. I have laid out verifiable evidence and I have made a solid case for the charge of serial malfeasance on the part of those in management and authority here. What will it take for you to order a repair of this facility, Sir? Do we have to wait until bodies start falling over dead and it becomes an even worse national disgrace? We need help Sir. Guy Richardson is NOT going to do right by us! We are broke and we are hungry but he won’t even provide us with a meal on VA grounds and will arrogantly tell us so to our faces. While he violates every EEO protocol, handing out jobs to whomever he pleases, covering his violations with lies and schemes to deny Veterans full-time employment, or even a therapeutic job, who will stop him from hurting us?
He is NOT going to change and he is NOT going help us get well and become productive members of society again. Our flags are flying upside down sending the universal signal that all soldiers recognize, to your office, a soldier is in dire distress.