|By Sheila Hagar, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Wash.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
"You are in control of a piece of providing Veterans health care or services -- that is your job," it stated. "Let's redouble our efforts to improve the Veteran's experience and let's do it now."
The email landed in the inbox of every VA employee in mid-July.
But it was too late for "Melanie," a
Her termination came the day before a representative of the
Melanie has theories about why that happened, including that the VA does not welcome dissent. Not even, in her case, if comments are about systematic hindrances that hurt employee performance and service to veterans.
Several months earlier Clancy would exhort VA employees to take control of their jobs and "move forward with urgency," said Melanie, who is in her early 40s and requested anonymity for this story in fear of retribution from the VA and hurting future job prospects.
She said she was doing just as Clancy urged.
"I was on time every day, I stayed late every day and I have the emails to prove it," she said. "But I didn't have time to get the job done in those hours."
She added she didn't ask for overtime and accepted what little compensation time the VA handed out without complaint. "I just wanted to get the work done."
In a letter to her boss, Melanie said calls to the clinic never stopped and there was a constant flow of activity coming and going. If there was a slight letup, the time was spent catching up on flagged orders and other to-dos.
Not long after her job began, Melanie realized she had not received adequate training for the software used for billing insurance companies. And neither could she access the program on her computer.
"I requested further assistance in training and I never got a reply," she said.
In copies of a letter and emails to her VA superiors furnished to the Union-Bulletin, Melanie had reminded officials she had received a "glowing performance appraisal" just weeks before failing an audit of her performance in billing veterans' insurers.
"I was in disbelief because I asked the senior (clerical worker) several times for assistance in getting this set up and was basically ignored and told 'later,'" she wrote.
At one point the situation was so overwhelming, Melanie had what she described as an emotional breakdown. Told to go home and not to worry, she stayed home the next day to calm down, she said.
But when she was honest about why she called in sick, her boss told her it was a misuse of leave.
While her experience of working at the VA is just a hint of the troubled health system, her own experience as a former soldier and then years later as a VA patient speaks volumes about why she was determined to do her best for the agency.
After serving in the