LeRoy Collins Commentary 29

Commentary #29
7 March 2007

Taking the long view...

From: LeRoy Collins Jr., Executive Director, Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs (FDVA)

Sent: Wednesday, March 07, 2007 11:59 PM
To: Senior Management Team, FDVA
Subject: Taking the long view....

Team . . . my pre-planned chat with the Deputy Chief-of-Staff in the Governor's Office, Eric Eikenberg, took place late yesterday afternoon...after "normal working hours." It was the opening day for the 2007 Florida Legislature, and Eric’s office was busy. I commend to you Governor Crist’s speech for the occasion; in it you will find some very forward-thinking (and NON-PARTISAN) inspiration, which should provide much hope to Floridians.

I explained to Eric I could not be at the Governor's meeting of agency heads Wednesday morning because my wife would have eye surgery* in Tampa at the same time, and I needed to be with her. He said he understood, and would cover for our agency. For his input, I took him through our FDVA issues, e.g.:

     1. our concern re current U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA) service anomalies,

     2. my dismissal of two Certified Nursing Assistants from our State Veterans Nursing Homes (SVNH) last week due to their substandard performances on the job….potential publicity,

     3. our attempts to get funding for a new SVNH (double occupancy) in St. Johns County,

     4. my belief we should pursue more entrepreneurial efforts in behalf of the FDVA, as we do now with Veteran-identity State automobile license plates. This way we need not be completely dependent upon the Florida Legislature and the USDVA to fund our department. There is ample precedence for such revenue-producing activities in other States, and

     5. documenting military experiences of WWII Veterans in our SVNHs, before it's too late.

This was not just a one-way conversation. Eric acknowledged Floridians will relate any matter involving Veterans ANYWHERE with our FDVA, so we need to be prepared. In the last few days, President Bush appointed a special Commission to look into Veterans service deficiencies reported recently in the Washington Post. Also, committees in both houses of Congress met extensively on this matter of service to Veterans in the last few days; so it already has some heavy traction.

I am proud that FDVA, under Rocky's leadership, got the Seamless Transition Program started in Florida late last year to address the very problems cited by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on National TV tonight, i.e. prevent wounded Iraq/Afghanistan returnees from being lost in the bureaucracy while transitioning from active duty to civilian status WHILE STILL IN NEED OF HEALTHCARE FROM THE VA! I was gratified to be shown a special cell of dedicated VA specialists pursuing the Seamless Transition objective with such fierce determination in Barry's Bay Pines B&A shop just this past week. But even there, the detail being processed is very dense and cumbersome. I saw one Veteran's files stacked almost THREE FEET HIGH!

Having just read the Cover Article in the 5 MAR 2007 edition of NEWSWEEK entitled "Failing our Wounded," my friend VA Undersecretary Dan Cooper was identified with a 400,000 backlog. You and I know that process has many built-in delays, which may by now require ALL source documentation on file with the U.S. Government be scanned, coded, and captured electronically for the future - or something similarly draconian - an enormous expense in time and money.

Looking back within FDVA, I take some comfort knowing we have good oversight systems working in our six FDVA Homes, i.e. annual AHCA surveys, plus periodic inspections by the respective county health departments, local fire departments, and unannounced examinations by the two "roving RNs" from our Largo office (both of whom have AHCA service in their professional past). Personally, I feel we have the bedrock talent on board FDVA to weather public/media scrutiny. But if there are any deficiences, NOW is the time to fix them. If that takes more funding than we have now, the biggest deficiency might be not asking for what we need to "repair any leaks in our hull."

Finally, I forgot to ask Eric if he believes the one-page bi-weekly FDVA SITREP we send him now is meaningful. He did volunteer that as an outgrowth of the Governor's agency head meeting today, he wants all to send him an additional end-of-month report citing our most significant accomplishments. That tells me I need to do a better job of goal setting, with the identification of monthly milestones for defining progress toward completion of such goals. I shall do that forthwith...with help from you. -LC

* I got Jane home later this morning following an early morning removal of a cataract in her right eye. It is still uncomfortable for her, but now that the anesthesia is wearing off, I shall have her back with the ophthalmologist tomorrow morning to appraise this surgery, and plan the next one. -LC


From: Collins, LeRoy [mailto:CollinsL@FDVA.STATE.FL.US]
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 1:33 PM
To: Senior Management Team, FDVA

All: I was in WASHDC yesterday on a Navy Flag Officer matter, but the leading story in the WASHINGTON POST was about the mistreatment of Veterans in the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) in the District of Columbia. The headlines were: "IT IS NOT JUST WALTER REED.." followed by anecdotes of where Veterans have been delayed (and even allegedly ignored!) in their claims for VA service, and especially out-patient healthcare. The local NPR radio station was full of personal interviews with Veterans (many of which were highly complimentary).

From our inside FDVA perspective, some might see this as principally a USVA matter, and others might think this debate will last only until the next Anna Nicole Smith incident (or the next Congressional scandal) takes center stage. I do not think that is the right attitude for ANY of us in FDVA. If the issue is Veterans, we should anticipate the public, the media, and certainly most Veterans, might logically presume FDVA is involved, in some way, so we should conduct ourselves accordingly.

So, for the next day or so I would like you to think about what FDVA should do

     1. to rectify any anticipated criticism coming our way (albeit more accurately directed to the VA), but more importantly

     2. to think of what we should do to strengthen what we already do for Veterans.

Finally.....we do not have the VA's big budget, but like the VA, we safeguard the daily lives of almost 700 Veterans for their trusting families...and a grateful Nation. Let us ensure we ALWAYS do our PROFESSIONAL best in their care. LC

LeRoy Collins Jr.
Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy Reserve (Ret.)
Executive Director
Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs


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