- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2014

The VA ranked as the second-worst place to work among large federal agencies in 2014, and a top department official has begged employees to submit ideas to try to improve the situation.

The Veterans Affairs Department ranked 18th out of 19 large federal agencies in a list based on employees’ feedback on surveys from this spring, or about the time the VA began to face scrutiny over a broken bureaucracy and poor care of veterans. Only the Department of Homeland Security rated lower.

A whistleblower had alleged that veterans died while waiting for care on a secret list at the Phoenix VA facility, and internal audits found problems throughout the VA, including lengthy wait times, employees who cooked the books to earn bonuses, retaliation against whistleblowers and a culture that placed veterans’ needs below that of the bureaucracy.

Jose D. Riojas, VA’s chief of staff, in a message to employees, blamed the poor ranking on the timing of the surveys.

“This survey was conducted at a time when the department was facing serious challenges,” he wrote in an email to employees obtained by The Washington Times. “While the intense scrutiny experienced by our hardworking employees during this period understandably impacted morale, your dedication to serving veterans remains strong.”

He called the poor showing an opportunity to “determine what is working at VA and what we need to do to improve service for veterans.”

Mr. Riojas asked VA employees to use the MyVA Idea House, an online forum, to submit ideas on how to deliver better care to veterans.

“I want to make sure everyone has a chance to be involved in building a better VA,” he said. “While the work of the MyVA Task Force is helping us with major initiatives and infrastructure changes, I am counting on everyone to make changes to our daily work life to help VA better serve veterans.”

In 2013, the VA was ranked 13th on the list, with a 57.3 percent satisfaction rating. In 2014 that dropped to 54.6 percent satisfaction rate. Only Homeland Security ranks worse, at an abysmal 44 satisfaction rate.

The VA has not placed in the upper half of federal workplaces since 2009.

Within the VA, the inspector general office was the best place to work, earning the 33rd spot on a list of 314 subagencies throughout the government, despite facing accusations earlier this year that investigators were changing reports to protect VA officials. The Veterans Health Administration ranked 194 and the Veterans Benefits Administration was 255.

• Jacqueline Klimas can be reached at jklimas@washingtontimes.com.

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