Yesterday I logged onto Amazon.com to buy a special pair of running shoes for my son. Before I had a chance to go to search window, Amazon presented me with offers to buy three recently or about to published books.
Amazon technology “remembered” that I had purchased the first two volumes of Ken Follett’s trilogy on twentieth century Europe. Volume three is going to be released in mid-October. I can’t wait – such great writing!
I bought all three books in less than 5 minutes.
The running shoes – I didn’t find them in my son’s size and the price was higher than expected. But I am certain that between now and Christmas, Amazon will shoot me an e-mail offer in his size – at a price I am willing to pay – delivered free in 48 hours.
That’s the power of customer focused business, fueled by solid but not extraordinary technology.
Veterans Administration Has NO Customer Focus
I take Amazon’s efficiency as much for granted as I do government inefficiency.
Still I was shocked by a front page story about a disabled Vietnam-era veteran in today’s San Jose Mercury News.
But I was just as surprised by the indifference David Reiss met inside the VA. Indifference that is deeply imbedded in the VA culture the VA sources quoted in the article didn’t even recognize that they were personally accountable to their fellow human being.
Dr. Abigail Wilson, Mr. Reiss’s VA Health Care surgeon complained how difficult it is to treat a seriously ill veteran who is living in an SUV. She said she “referred him to the Veterans Administration” but the VA disability pension, granted after a long delay, was not enough to pay for permanent housing. That’s yet another bureaucracy.
In the meantime, this veteran “lives” in the Regional Medical Center parking lot – to remain close to the Emergency Room!
America Owes Veterans a Roof over Their Heads
Vietnam era veterans were largely drafted – right out of high school.
For the last 40 years military volunteers were induced by promises of college and/or career.
After a series of wars and expeditions draftees and volunteers returned to civilian life with physical and psychological scars the rest of us cannot even imagine and, too often, without the job skills our economy values. Too many have ended up hopeless, drug-addicted, and homeless.
In 2009 Congress passed legislation aimed at ending veteran homelessness by – drumroll please – 2016!
I wonder where these self-satisfied, comfortably warm and air-conditioned representatives and VA bureaucrats thought these veterans would eat and sleep during the decade long effort.
A measure of the level of indifference facing US veterans is the elasticity in the number, itself. The VA estimated there are 57,800 homeless veterans daily in 2012. The Department of Housing and Urban Affairs put the number at 62,900 during the same period.
That’s a daily difference of 5100 – or 1.8 million days of veteran homelessness in a single year.
If that’s not an emergency, then what is?
Veterans Need an Advocate
In the 21st century the VA should be able to connect the dots – using either the veteran’s Social Security Number or Military Identification Number – to coordinate health care, disability, housing and other resources. But we’ve learned such simple automated coordination is impossible in today’s VA.
Lacking the tools to quickly connect the dots makes it tougher to solve the problem but not impossible.
The VA must urgently recruit a corps of Veteran Relationship Managers (VRM) to serve as personal advocates for each veteran. The advocate would work with local homeless aid organizations and law enforcement to identify veterans who need VA services. As well as soliciting referrals from VA Health Care and Claims Offices.
For each veteran, the advocate would use the various disconnected systems to gather and verify needed information, determine care and services required. The advocate would, then, use the same systems plus telephone calls, e-mail, confrontation of VA bureaucrats – whatever is needed to get a veteran services beginning in less than 90 days and stay with the veteran to “wellness”.
Veteran Relationship Managers can be recruited from demobilizing current military members. Their experience will give them empathy. Their ethos remains — we leave no man or woman behind on the battlefield.
Most importantly the modern veteran is characterized by a “can do” attitude. It’s that attitude that will give homeless, hopeless veterans a fresh grasp on life. It’s an attitude that must come to characterize the 21st century Veterans Administration.
Photo Credit: Huffington Post