I was eating lunch and playing Double Deck Pinochle on a balcony of the old hospital building when the news of Kennedy’s assignation reached us. It’s funny how I can remember what I was having for lunch that day, (PBJ sandwich), but can’t recall if it was before or after THE day when Robert McNamara made a visit to the school and shipyard. The Department of Defense, DOD, had made a short list of bases up for closure, and as Secretary of Defense, McNamara was making the rounds. Why he was making the rounds, I don’t know. You see, McNamara had made his name and fortune doing statistical control. First he did this in the US Army Air Corps, then later at Ford Motor. He was, then, a bean counter. Why he couldn’t count beans, make decisions, and determine the value of the shipyard from the Pentagon, isn’t clear.
At any rate, he came to MINS. Bear in mind here, it was the shipyard that was under threat of closure. The school was just something that needed a building for school and a barracks for the sailors going to school there. The huge closed hospital building and WWII barracks were empty after WWII, and were just begging for tenants. So the chain of command looked something like, a Captain or Rear Admiral as Commander of the Naval base, (and shipyard) and an Officer In Charge, OIC, maybe a Commander, one rank below Captain, for the school. The OIC had an executive officer, XO, always a hatchet man who does the dirty work. Below that are lower ranks taking care of business with the bottom layers, the students and the instructors.
So, the Admiral tells the OIC in charge of the school, the OIC in charge of the shipyard civilians, and whatever other minions he has running things, “...the Secretary of Defense is coming. Make things neat, look busy and find reasons why the Navy can’t do without us.” This is the Admiral's territory, and if this territory isn’t here, he might have to go to sea and not be able to use the golf course or the tennis courts. They don’t have such facilities available at sea. Lost to history is the reaction of everyone but the OIC of the computer school. This is 1963 and computers are on the upswing. The school OIC isn’t worried that they will close the school. Computers are becoming necessary to the modern Navy. But, they would have to move the school and Mare Island is conveniently close to such weekend destinations as Napa Valley and San Francisco. He also plays golf with the admiral which he thinks is good for his career.
So, the OIC dreams up a demonstration of how computers will solve many of the Navy’s problems with handling data in air and sea battles. That of course does not involve any personnel below the rank of Chief Petty Officer. In order that things look tidy and to make it look like the lower ranks are busy he tells his XO to get ready for an inspection.
Normally, the school and the barracks are cleaned daily by the duty section of students. The school has six section duty which means 1/6 of the students have duty each day and one out of six weekends. Ordinarily, an inspection might mean an extra couple of hours work by the duty section. Because this was the Secretary of Defense, it meant more hours by the entire school, staff and students. I was assigned to the head, Navy talk for restroom. Urinals, toilets and sinks, with no showers, thank God. Showers were in the barracks. I think we started after lunch, around 11:30 am. We finally left after eight pm. The mental image of the Secretary of Defense running a white glove under a toilet rim and saying “It’s clean; we don’t have to close the base.”, is imprinted in my mind to this day.
My experience of that day demonstrates an absurdity of the military. Nearly everyone has an example of the civilian government bureaucracy being dysfunctional. I’ll mention only one, the congress of the United States today. The worst half of the Congress seems to be the Senate.
These days we have the Veterans Administration, VA, more properly United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Actually, it existed then, in 1963, as a slightly less dysfunctional organization. The VA is a civilian organization run by civilians under the Secretary of the department who is a member of the president’s cabinet. Its sole purpose is to serve military veterans of the United States. Because of its purpose, the department seems to have inherited most of the flaws of military organizations, and civilian governmental organizations, with few if any, of the redeeming qualities of either.
I am not one to dismiss bureaucracies as bloated, inefficient entities that need to be pared down to a manageable size, say three or four people, as most politicians do. We have bureaucracies because they are the most efficient means we have of making a government work. Kind of depressing, that definition. The problem is that we have to have large organizations with myriads of rules to cover every eventuality. The United States had 21.5 million military veterans in 2011, and so, we need a very large organization to serve them. We need a lot of different rules because each veteran has different needs, different situations, and different entitlements as veterans. Veterans that served in war zones generally have the more programs and benefits available. 7.5 million Served during the Vietnam era, and 5.1 million in the Gulf War era, 1990 to present. Of course not all of them served in the actual war zones. The rules are different for each. The reason for the difference is that the rules are set by Congress. In short, it is complicated.
Then, there are different forms of benefits. The GI Bill, schooling benefits, is probably the best known. But, there are health benefits, administered by VA Healthcare, and housing benefits, such as GI loan programs. Those are just the largest; there are others. They are each administered by separate organizations within the VA. Every organization has its own rules, responsibilities and turf. And, so do the individuals that comprise each organization.
Merrill’s law for organizations: Rules increase as a power of e to the number of choices.
Rules = e number of choices
e = approx 2.71828...
so, for 2 choices we need e2 or at least 7.389046 rules
and for 10 choices we need e10 or at least 1096.628 rules
Note: this formula gives a minimum number of rules.
You do the math for millions of choices.
The VA has special benefits and services for homeless veterans. On a given night, between 65,000 and 130,000 veterans are homeless. There is uncertainty about the actual number – both of those figures come from the Veterans Administration. One of every seven homeless is a vet. 50% of the homeless veterans are from the Vietnam era. Regardless of the actual numbers, there are way too many.
The sad truth, according to the U.S. Department affairs, is: “The number of homeless Vietnam-era veterans, male and female, is greater than the number of soldiers who died during the war.”
A couple more facts and then I will be done. The number of Vietnam Veterans is decreasing, but their health needs, (and hence number of new claims), is increasing. The number of Gulf War veterans is increasing (and number of claims for all services). This is a perfect storm of new claims for the VA. Each new claim must be tested against the millions, (billions), of rules. Takes time, don’t you know.
According to the VA there are 953,000 claims in process at present. Claims are handled by humans – mostly. Humans make mistakes, are territorial, have personalities, like some people, and dislike other people on sight or sight unseen. Unfairness is built in. Each decision made can be appealed.
I wonder what the number of appeals is.
The homeless veterans submit many claims. Most don’t have a mail address; those that do often don’t inform the VA what the current one is. Mail or in person is the only way to learn if a claim is approved or disapproved.
Every year, in Phoenix, there is a “stand down”. In military talk a stand down is when a unit is pulled from the combat zone for R & R. The VA participates and vows to end homelessness among veterans. The VA also vows to eliminate the backlog of 953,000.
It could happen.
Not with the present set of rules and organization. I have not heard of any changes being made.
If nothing changes, nothing changes. This includes the backlog and number of homeless.
Is it possible the system is broken?
I just hope they don’t try to fix things by getting a McNamara clone to run his finger under toilet rims.
You may remember a story from the New Testament about a bureaucracy in turmoil and the head of the bureaucracy trying to change a bad decision by other members of the bureaucracy.