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VA claims processing office described as "toxic"

Many government agencies are struggling with hiring and pay freezes, increased workloads, budget cuts and the effects of the sequestration. The constant mantra seems to be do more with less. Doing more with less, however, comes with a cost, and this cost if often borne by employees, either directly, like pay cuts and furloughs, or indirectly by pressure and harassment by management and supervisors.

The Department of Veterans Affair's Regional Office in St. Petersburg has responsibility for processing claims benefits. With more than 1 million claims submitted every year, the office has been straining to meet the demands. It appears they are not succeeding very well, as conditions have been called "toxic" and employees have filed complaints with U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

In addition to the heavy production demands, it appears a classic case of a botched management plan being blamed on employees. The attempt to implement the "Veterans Benefits Management System" has caused significant delays, and 20,000 hours of production loss. The Office of Inspector General reported the system "has made the claims process more difficult, rather than improving efficiency as intended."

This has resulted in 70 percent of the workforce failing to meet their new performance standards, which if the employees fail improve, could lead to their termination or grade reduction.

The union representative for the workers commented that, "Station goals and individual performance standards are not linked. Therefore, this has led to an unrealistic performance of employees."

One estimate indicates it could take up to $2.8 million in overtime to improve the backlog in claims waiting processing, which seems unlikely given the sequestration issues and other budget challenges.

If you are a federal employee and your work environment has become hostile and toxic, speak with an attorney knowledgeable with these workplace issues.

Source: The Tampa Bay Tribune, "Workers say strains making VA office a misery," Howard Altman, April 21, 2013

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