Tags: Polls | VA Scandal | Hacked | Twitter

VA Reform Is a Joke

Friday, 06 May 2016 12:02 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Both David Gewirtz and Tom Young had a problem with a faceless, unresponsive, inertia–bound bureaucracy that views people with problems as nuisances.

Gewirtz, a reporter for ZDNet.com, was attempting to open an Instagram account. When he tried to log in he saw an account–blocked message: “Your account has been disabled for violating our terms."

Gewirtz concluded his account had been “hacked,” a strange assumption for a tech journalist.

“Hacked” is the excuse du jour when private–part selfies appear in a politician’s Twitter account or an old gasmask bong video resurfaces. Since Gewirtz’ account hadn’t existed previously, it couldn’t have been hacked. Instead his email address and identity had been kidnapped, hijacked or stolen. Take your pick.

Gewirtz entered the Kafka Zone and endured a harrowing tale of customer service gone wrong. He repeatedly tried to solve his problem using the “contact” section of the website.

Unfortunately, the desire to be in contact wasn’t reciprocated. Frustrated, he tried the journalist card and contacted public relations, an avenue closed to the average victim.

This produced an email address for someone on the inside. Gewirtz submitted an incredible amount of personal data along with a kidney in an effort to solve a problem he didn’t cause.

Only the problem wasn’t solved. His follow–up message received a cyber brush–off: Instagram sent him back to the original useless web form.

I felt his pain. I’m a former Comcast customer and know all about customer disservice.

But Gewirtz and I part company at his suggested solution: “I am not a proponent of additional regulation. [But] if these services can't be bothered to provide users with support, perhaps it's time we reached out through the long arm of government and required them to step up and do the right thing.”

Somehow he believes the organization maintaining the No Fly List — a black hole of indifference for those wrongly included — is just the overseer for social media troubleshooting.

Gewirtz doesn’t have a functioning Instagram account, but he can make wrong–headed recommendations for solving tech support problems.

I don’t know Tom Young’s status with Instagram, but I can tell you his status with the Veterans Administration is that of a former client.

The VA is the original faceless, don’t–give–a–damn federal bureaucracy and ABC7 tells the story. Young, who served two tours in Iraq, knew he had a problem with alcohol and depression. He tried to persuade the VA to admit him to a VA Hospital three times and was turned down every time.

The first two because he wasn’t suicidal and when he did become suicidal he was still turned down and offered a spot on the waiting list instead.

Then Young tried a fourth time and again encountered the VA procrastination protocol. His urgent call to the suicide hotline went to voice mail. In keeping with the VA’s general air of lassitude and incompetence, Young’s call was returned the day after he committed suicide.

Now the VA is promising to “reform” suicide hotline management by placing it under the supervision of a man whose previous VA call center had a dropped call rate 5 times higher than the highest acceptable drop rate in the private sector.

USA Today reports when Matthew Eitutis ran the Health Resource Center phone bank it “had a call abandonment rate of 26 percent.” In the private sector, CallCenterHelper.com informs us, “anything above 5 percent would be seen as problematic.”

While in the VA a 26 percent abandonment rate grooms you for promotion.

Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson is sold on Eitutis, “I want to be very clear and unambiguous. One of the biggest challenges we have right now . . . is answering the phone. There is no individual in the entire department that I've got more confidence in than Matt (Eitutis).”

We should count our blessings. If Alexander Graham Bell hadn’t happened along, I suppose the challenge at the VA would be motivating someone to empty the mailbox.

Jeff Rumburg, an expert on service desk metrics, did a study of 100 private sector call centers and only one had an abandonment rate over 25 percent, while the VA has at least two and one of those is a crisis line.

Young’s death represents more bad publicity for the VA. Like a hippopotamus bitten on the behind by a Tsetse fly, there will be a burst of short–lived activity until lethargy takes over again and the VA can go back to snoozing.

The VA can’t and won’t be reformed because there is no competitive alternative. Chronic customer dissatisfaction in the private sector means bankruptcy. That’s why we don’t have warranty disputes with Circuit City anymore.

But the only alternative for veterans is the cemetery.

Michael R. Shannon is a commentator, researcher (for the League of American Voters), and an award-winning political and advertising consultant with nationwide and international experience. He is author of "Conservative Christian’s Guidebook for Living in Secular Times (Now with added humor!)." Read more of Michael Shannon's reports — Go Here Now.


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The VA can go back to snoozing. The VA can’t and won’t be reformed because there is no competitive alternative. Chronic customer dissatisfaction in the private sector means bankruptcy. That’s why we don’t have warranty disputes with Circuit City anymore.
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Friday, 06 May 2016 12:02 PM
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