"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."
Robert Frost, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1923.
Broken promises are the real scandal at the VA. For many years well-intentioned and highly competent case workers and medical professionals have enthusiastically gone to work for the VA only to find themselves overwhelmed by need and ill-equipped to provide timely service.
"Working in admitting at the VA in Phoenix was like being handed a mop and told to keep the floor dry as a tidal wave overwhelmed the building." That statement communicates the feeling beyond frustration that our colleagues experienced while trying to do a job that they saw as critical. Many of the them quit in frustration, only to make matters worse.
Many of them, however, soldiered on and were overwhelmed by an ill-conceived, over promised, and emergency managed agency. The general public has, of course, reacted with outrage. Case work professionals across the country, however, are experiencing disturbingly similar conditions across the entire landscape of social service agencies.
We are all to blame. Even well-meaning and thoughtful politicians dream too big about how to cure our social ills. Rarely, it seems, does anyone know how to manage realistic expectations. Initial grandstanding gradually gives way to buck passing down the line until a catastrophic failure like the VA is ultimately blamed on the overwhelmed workers.
"The dysfunction stems from an outdated, convoluted scheduling program that needs to be replaced with new software, but Department of Veteran's Affairs Headquarters failed to provide resources." This is a quote from inspector Bowers who was sent in to uncover the problems in the Phoenix VA.
We must begin immediately to take responsibility for looking the other way when we are unable to keep our lofty promises. Good intentions are not enough. There is much work to be done to live up to our promise to our veterans.
“For we have promises to keep,
And miles to go before we sleep,
And miles to go before we sleep.”