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U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) (C) departs a meeting with fellow members of the
Sen. Rob Portman
Republican Sens. Rob Portman and Tom Coburn have found something new(ish) to blame on unions, asking if time federal workers spend on "official time," time spent on doing union bargaining or representation work, is detracting from the work of the Veterans Affairs department.
“Federal employees not serving veterans during official time could lead to the failure of VA’s top goals and the well-being of those who have sacrificed in the service of our nation could be compromised,” Coburn and Portman wrote.

The senators said documents from the agency show 188 employees “in 100 percent official time capacity” from Jan. 1, 2012, to February 2013.” They include, Coburn and Portman wrote, a wide variety of health care providers, including nurses, addiction specialists, pharmacists, psychologists and others.

This complaint is only newish and not entirely new in the sense that Republicans often pull up time spent on union-related functions in attacks on public workers; the specific application of the complaint to VA backlogs is just opportunistic.

The reality is this: Official time cannot be used for internal union business; according to the federal Office of Personnel Management, it's used for things like "participat[ing] in labor-management workgroups," "facilitat[ing] implementation of new workplace initiatives that enhance employees’ ability to effectively serve the public," and "represent[ing] employees in grievances and disciplinary actions." Things that help the workplace operate smoothly, in other words. In fiscal year 2011, official time came to 4.02 hours per VA bargaining unit employee.

But for Republicans, anything to blame problems on union workers rather than on an overloaded Department of Veterans Affairs thanks to George W. Bush's wars.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Wed Jun 05, 2013 at 09:04 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Somewhat Off Topic. And This Backlog (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Philpm, tardis10

    is just terrible. But I had a data entry job in highschool and over the summer when I was in college. I was pretty good at it. And there were like another 25 people working with me on the night shift.

    What we entered wasn't nearly as complex as these records and if we had 10 or maybe even 100 times as many employees I don't know how many years it would take to enter all this info. I just don't think people get this.

  •  W. Bush and other republican draft dodgers (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Philpm, tardis10

    continually cut funding of VA departmental funding and slashed funding of veteran's benefits while making new veterans who became dependent on the VA for medical care.

    I'd tip you but they cut off my tip box. The TSA would put Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad on the no-fly list.

    by OHdog on Wed Jun 05, 2013 at 09:40:24 AM PDT

  •  Gotta take the spotlight off of (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tardis10

    the fact that they've refused to increase funding and staffing for the VA for years.

    Undecided voters are the biggest idiots on the planet. - Brian Griffin

    by Philpm on Wed Jun 05, 2013 at 10:50:11 AM PDT

  •  Republican Slime Bags (3+ / 0-)

    Always trying to destroy things and putting the blame on someone else.

  •  IIRC, part of the backlog has to do with Obama (0+ / 0-)

    including vets from previous wars who weren't included before. Also, for some very strange reason, they're working with two computer systems that don't talk to one another. I think they're working on that.

    This is just another (really unfortunate) case where the Repukes assume people will work for nothing. And without unions, they would.

  •  What asses. I have worked at the VA. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sixty Something

    What I experienced, first hand, contributing to inefficiency were constant budget cuts combined with SEQUESTRATION.  The inability to plan due to the inability to know what funds will or will not be available caused horrendous headaches.
    Unions -- they never came up.  Lack of funding, needed positions not being filled, needed equipment not being repaired, or purchased, people getting hired then immediately axed due to budget cuts causing big holes in things getting done -- happened on a regular basis.
    Portman and Coburn, if you want the VA to run efficiently, fund it, and fund ALL of it, not just the endless construction projects.

    "On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps...of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again."

    by middleagedhousewife on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 05:52:54 PM PDT

  •  Another slam at unions.. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tarminian, Zinman

    ...and it won't work. Unions have people who are dedicated to the "bargaining." If he means spending time pursuing greviences, then phuq you Portman/Coburn. Until you walk a mile in MY shoes, don't EVEN go there. Because of your meddling, managers are hand-tied into stupid, frivolous policies which violate existing contracts. You wish to continue to vilolate the contracts you have with workers, expect greviences, which, in my office, my Rep probably spends two hours a week with the management going over all the greviences our union has won.

    What a couple of lying pieces of shyt.

    "Wealthy the Spirit which knows its own flight. Stealthy the Hunter who slays his own fright. Blessed is the Traveler who journeys the length of the Light."

    by CanisMaximus on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 05:57:43 PM PDT

    •  how many times a day does one need to bargain? (0+ / 0-)

      Just get the work done, our Vets deserve at least that, don't ya think?

      •  I don't believe you understand.. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        weinerschnauzer

        ...the way it works.

        We are compelled to do whatever the Managers say, but it violates the contract, so we file just greviences. The people ACTUALLY DOING THE WORK ARE ACTUALLY DOING THE WORK!! We don't take time from our duties for this, and the time that the union Steward spends with greviences is about two hours a week, max. Usually less.

        I don't work for the VA, but I am a disabled Vet who relies on the VA. I see dedicated people at the VA ACTUALLY DOING THE WORK, but they too are ham-strung by stupid policies handed down from -you guessed it- CONGRESS!!

        It's not unions who have ham-strung the VA, congress did that when the Bushies and then the Tea Party pushed through riders which attempt to cripple the public unions, making Managerial malfeasence mandatory. (Excuse the alliteration)

        "Wealthy the Spirit which knows its own flight. Stealthy the Hunter who slays his own fright. Blessed is the Traveler who journeys the length of the Light."

        by CanisMaximus on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 08:01:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          CanisMaximus

          For being much nicer than I would have been, but I've been on mandatory OT since we can't hire more people.

          It is better to be making the news than taking it; to be an actor rather than a critic. - WSC

          by Solarian on Fri Jun 07, 2013 at 07:13:42 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yeah... "You've been mandated today..." (0+ / 0-)

            ..."Can I see the list from which you decide that?"

            Management: "Hell no."

            "Wealthy the Spirit which knows its own flight. Stealthy the Hunter who slays his own fright. Blessed is the Traveler who journeys the length of the Light."

            by CanisMaximus on Fri Jun 07, 2013 at 01:18:13 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Reality. Portman or Coburn? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    middleagedhousewife

    Stuff it. Neither of you are contenders for President.

    These asses are getting tiresome.

    In the time it took Adam Lanza to reload, eleven children escaped. What if...

    by Sixty Something on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 06:02:52 PM PDT

  •  Lol (0+ / 0-)

    Nearly every VISN has backlogs, but not every hospital has unions that cover everyone.  At our hospital there is no physicians union, for instance.  Nice try, though.  

  •  I don't know what the problem is, (0+ / 0-)

    all I do know is I'm a Vietnam vet who has had a disability claim pending for over 4 years with no action taken. I'm caught in that "backlog". At one point after numerous phone calls I found my file had been lost, somehow sent to a "virtual file" where it languished for several years. I was advised to refile or reopen the claim. That was a year ago. My claim is not complex, as a matter of fact it is quite simple. I served in Vietnam. I now have Diabetes Type II, Ischemic Heart Disease (quad by-pass surgery)and Chronic Heart Failure, all linked to Agent Orange exposure and ALL fully documented for over 6 years by VA physicians and medical facilities. There is no familial history of any of these diseases. When I call the VA regional office handling the claim I get stonewalled. They say they have all they need, it's a matter of "processing".

    I even sought help from my U.S. Senator, who sits as a member of the Veteran's Affairs Committee. It's been two month's since his inquiry and even he has yet to get a response. I think in excess of 2 months to reply to a senatorial inquiry about a slam dunk disability claim is either disrespect or incompetence on the part of the VA.

    In the meantime, I continue to pay out of pocket for my medical care and medications. I've been told I can request a refund of all those charges once my claim is decided favorably if I'm rated over 60 per cent disabled. According to VA policy, my rating should be 100 per cent. I had less struggle getting Social Security Disability and that was a two plus year ordeal.

    My discussion with other vets is the VA is becoming known as the enemy. Vets commonly refer to VA policy jokingly as "delay, deny until they die." Sadly, many vets do die before their claim is ever acted on. "Average" claim processing is said to be 1 year and that's a lie. Appeals can be 5 years or more. Now, I don't know if it's a matter of funding, lack of personnel, bad management or a combination. I do think my claim is quite simple and clear cut and fully documented and should have been processed easily. I'm sure there are many claims like mine. PTSD can be faked, heart disease and diabetes cannot. But, if there are one or two more complex claims in the stack ahead of me that take years to work, apparently I'll have to wait until they are completed first.

    Once a civil servant gets career status they are virtually safe from termination. Perhaps that's one reason they don't respond to congressional inquiries. I had one career employee tell me that they would be on the job long after the politician was gone. So, maybe unions are partially to blame for protecting employees who no longer care or are just incompetent. I don't know, but I know I and other disabled vets are paying the price whatever the problem happens to be.

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