Even as new Veterans Administration secretary Robert McDonald urges VA employees to "rebuild trust" with veterans in the midst of treatment delays and coverup scandals in the agency, the VA is referring to dissatisfied veterans as "Oscar the Grouch."
The Philadelphia Inquirer
obtained copies of an 18-page internal training guide containing a slide show called, "What to Say to Oscar the Grouch — Dealing with Veterans During Town Hall Claims Clinics," which shows pictures of the perpetually grumpy Sesame Street character who lives in a garbage can, with a sign saying, "Cranky" hanging from the can's rim.
The presentation also includes a photo of Oscar saying, "100 % GROUCHY, DEAL WITH IT."
The VA currently is under investigation over whistleblowers' revelations that systematic falsifying of dates was undertaken to give the impression that veterans were receiving appointments and services much more quickly than they were actually being provided. The Town Hall meetings are an attempt to mollify angry veterans and provide services.
McDonald told the Inquirer,
"It is critical that we continue to listen and learn directly from those who use our system."
"This is no time or place to make light of the current crisis that the VA is in," Joe Davis, national spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, told the Inquirer."There are some people at the VA who forgot who their ultimate boss is, and that's the veteran."
VA spokesperson Marisa Prugsawan told the Inquirer, "The training provided was not intended to equate veterans with this character. It was intended to remind our employees to conduct themselves as courteously and professionally as possible when dealing with veterans and their concerns."
However, Davis said that the reference "slams the door" on the VA's attempts to build trust with veterans.
Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., has accused the VA of embracing a "culture of cover-ups."
The Inquirer reports
Meehan says he was told there was no date falsifying by Philadelphia VA director Daniel Hendee, but a VA audit found that 31 percent of schedulers reported they had been instructed to not enter appointment dates veterans requested.
The "Oscar the Grouch" training anticipates that veterans may become angry, and advises employees to take a break to cope with stress when things become heated.
The Inquirer also obtained a copy of an email to staff at the VA office, instructing them to "not respond directly to any media inquiries."
"For a long time, there was a stereotype of Vietnam veterans, that they’re mentally unstable and violent, bitter, angry and resentful," Christian DeJohn, a VA employee and former Army veteran who served in Bosnia, told the Inquirer. "I feel like this is perpetuating some of the worst stereotypes of veterans."
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