- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Asked to submit suggestions for how to improve services for veterans, employees at the Philadelphia VA Regional Office instead asked management for “very stylish” golf shirts.

In fact, as of late last month, just two comments had been submitted to the new suggestion box, according to Philadelphia VA Regional Office Director Diana Rubens: one requested the golf shirts, and another critiqued the suggestion box itself, saying it was a waste of time because the VA never listened to suggestions anyway.

Ms. Rubens instituted the suggestion boxes last month after some employees complained that an incentive program to process claims quickly could lead to incorrect decisions and rushed work in an effort to collect bonuses — similar to waitlist manipulation discovered at the Phoenix VA last year that erupted into a nationwide scandal.

In canceling the incentive program, Ms. Rubens said she wasn’t sure what else to do to speed up claims processing other than bonuses, so she said she was creating the suggestion box to solicit ideas on how to motivate employees to process 36,000 claims a year — a goal the office is already falling behind.

But in a new email to employees Jan. 26, she said there had been just the two responses, including the request for Veterans Service Center shirts.

“There is a team out there wanting to know how they get the very stylish VSC golf shirts. I believe we are making that available through the [VA Center Employee’s Association], stand-by for future updates,” Ms. Rubens wrote in the email, obtained by The Washington Times.

Ms. Rubens also said the box, which was placed near her office, had left employees uncomfortable.

“We are working to find a place that you will all feel comfortable submitting suggestions,” she wrote.

Walinda West, a spokeswoman for the VA, said the boxes would be moved to common areas to be more easily accessible.

The VA does have other programs to submit suggestions anonymously, including an online Idea House launched by Secretary Bob McDonald in November.

Mr. McDonald has also said that he welcomes suggestions from employees on how to better serve veterans and has made himself available by publicly giving out his cellphone number.

Ms. West said the suggestions boxes are just one effort to engage employees in Philadelphia.

“The Philadelphia VA Regional Office has a comprehensive approach to engaging employees, from employee meetings, structured listening post sessions, through first-line supervisors, weekly engagement with employee representatives, Local AFGE 490, as well as emails, informal conversations and through an open door policy with the regional office director,” she said.

She also said the office will be adding more suggestion boxes throughout the facility.

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

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