If there were more checks and balances to check on the records that exist, maybe more lists would accurately reflect the truth. And if those in the appointment-making department of the VA had the authority to send vets to any other available doctor anywhere in the city when time is of the essence, the vet would at least then have had his “primary” appointment, which would allow him to get his referral to the doctor he really needs to see, and maybe THAT appointment wouldn’t have to take seven or eight months and would many times save a life.
Sometimes people are greedy just for looking good — but if “looking good” translates into some kind of bonus, all the better. I can really relate to all those people who feel the need to vye for those “attaboys” at their annual (or even monthly) meetings.
The “system” sets up a quota, or “mission” of some sort, to meet, and those who achieve their mission are rewarded. Those who don’t are made to feel they might not be around much longer. And those who want to make “mission” but are having a hard time doing it the honest and ethical way, eventually find a way to do it, whatever it takes. And that is both from the top down or the bottom up. As long as it can “look” good, and they can be rewarded, people at both levels feel some sense of justification.
I myself am a veteran. My last job in the Army was as an Army recruiter. I know a lot about what goes on behind the scenes (or went on behind the scenes back in the day). And as with any big organization — and in this case, the Army Recruiting Command — those at the top always want to look good. I have to admit I don’t know if there were any monetary benefits passed around to those at the top when they “made mission,” but down at the recruiter level, making mission meant you got to keep your job.
Stress was exceptionally high since your success did not depend just on how well you did your job; it depended on how many would-be recruits responded favorably to how well you did your job. You could be a superstar in the performance of your job, but a loser in your mission numbers at the end of the month.
Although there was that monthly performance review — and woe to you if you did not live up to your required expected mission — there was also the yearly District Recruiting Command conference, at which top recruiters were acknowledged and rewarded, and those who didn’t shine were more or less made to feel shame, and could probably look forward to being “kicked out” of recruiting, whether directly related to their lack of achievement or for some other excuse.
Since I was in recruiting for several years, I got to know how some of those high achievers made their goal. In fact, when I was a brand-new recruiter, fresh out of recruiting school, and I walked into my very first recruiting station, I could not believe my eyes! No one had told me what I was walking into. I expected it to be different from any other job I ever had, but I was certainly not prepared for what I saw!
In the recruiting station that normally had six recruiters, all but one — the station commander — had been fired! The last recruiter was still there, with his back to me, removing all those plaques he had received for his recruiting achievements — for “looking good” — from the wall. He put them in a box along with a few things from his desk, and said to me, as he walked toward the door, “Good luck — you’re going to need it!” Then he walked out, and I was left staring at the six empty desks, hoping for some explanation from the only other person there.
Yes, that was my first day in my new field of Recruiting. Every single recruiter in that particular district command had been fired for cheating, for enlisting the ineligible, to keep up the stats. It wasn’t just at my recruiting station! That is what the pressures of “looking good” can do–and did do! It was what they all felt they had to do because of the pressure from the top down.
I wish I could say it got much better from that day forward, but what I learned is that it’s always about the statistics. It’s always about looking good. I often got the “do it..or else” speech directed at me, and I know that my commander not only expected me to fail–what with being a female, you know — he wanted me to fail. Anyway, I managed to survive that command and moved on to another.
One day I was in my new private office — removed from where my station commander had his office — and he called me on the phone. “I need you to compile some statistics for our conference next week,” he said. I asked him what kind of statistics he needed, since recruiters are always compiling statistics on one thing or another. When he told me, I told him there was no way I could compile those statistics even if I had six months; that they simply did not exist, and I would not create them. He told me it was a direct order, and was furious when I told him I still would not do it.
It didn’t take long for him to storm into my office with a map and a pile of papers in his hand. “You WILL do it because we need them for the conference and I’m ordering you to do it!” he yelled at me. I remember telling him that he could compile them himself if he chose to, and put his own name on the falsified statistics, but I would not do it and that was that.
From that moment forward he went out of his way to make my life miserable. He wrote up reports about my poor performance that went all the way up the chain. He stated he would not support my re-enlistment. He got others in a position of authority to throw what misery they could into the mix. I don’t even remember if he did create those statistics he wanted me to falsify for him or not, but the good news is that I stayed in recruiting on my own terms, did the best I could within the boundaries of good recruiting, and still went to the top of the chart.
I learned a lot about the need for good statistics back in those days. But I also learned that in reality, statistics mean nothing. What matters are the people those statistics are supposed to reflect. And I’m sure every single veteran who needs care and needs it now would agree.
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Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.