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Vice Presidentís Report, November/December 2023 -   -  
   

John R. Cutler, 1949-2023

It is with a heavy heart that I must report the death of one of VVAís most dedicated and effective Veteran Service Officers, John Cutler, who died on August 21 at 74. Born in Putnam, Connecticut, John Cutler served as a U.S. Army helicopter crew chief with the 146th Aviation Company in Vietnam. Following his honorable discharge in 1972, he embarked on a career inspecting jet engines for the Department of Defense at Sikorsky Aircraft in Bridgeport and Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford.

In his post-retirement years, he became an invaluable part of Chapter 120 in East Hartford, volunteering as the editor of the chapterís monthly newsletter and as a Service Officer. He was relentless in advocating for veterans, ensuring they received the benefits they rightly deserved. His dedication was recognized with the VVA Achievement Medal.

I had the privilege of knowing John Cutler through his VVA work, and I represented the organization at his funeral in Putnam. His legacy as a Veteran Service Officer is indelible, marked by the many lives he touched and the respect he earned from the community. We extend our deepest condolences to his family. May he rest in peace.

THE VA'S PERSONNEL CRISIS  

Recent media reports have highlighted a worrying trend at the Department of Veterans Affairs: significant attrition of workers, particularly claims processors. This exodus, influenced by a performance measurement system implemented in 2017, has exacerbated workload pressures amid an influx of new cases following the enactment of the PACT Act.

The standard system requires Veteran Service Representatives to accumulate points per pay period through task completion, which includes vital eligibility verification processes for veteransí claims. However, this point system seemingly pits employees against the veterans they serve, creating an environment of strain and rapid turnover.

The VA has tried to mitigate the problem by hiring some 11,500 new processors since 2020, yet the pressure to rapidly close cases continues to compromise the quality of service, leading to more than 2,000 resignations. Veterans bear the brunt of this unsustainable system.

One poignant example comes from Nancy Gwinn, a claims processor who told NBC News recently about the ethical dilemma she faced in meeting quota demands concerning thorough case examinations. The current systemís rigidity fails to account for the unique complexities of each case, she said, often forcing processors to choose between job security and justly serving veterans.

Whatís more, access to essential services has become an ordeal, exemplified by my own experience of persistent, unproductive attempts to contact a VA hospital department. After nearly a week of futile calls and redirections, it was only through a compassionate telephone operatorís intervention that I was connected to the right department. Such experiences underscore the systemic issues plaguing the VA today.

The VAís struggle to retain qualified personnel extends to clinical staffing, leading to inadequate patient-care provider ratios and diminished service quality. While we acknowledge and appreciate the thousands of VA employees dedicated to serving veterans, it is evident fundamental changes are necessary to ensure veterans receive timely and appropriate care.

This ongoing crisis requires immediate attention and resolution. We owe it to veterans to advocate for a system that prioritizes their well-being and that values the VA employees committed to their care


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