Monday, December 19, 2016

VA Budget Letter to Senator Scott

From: Gus Fitch
Colonel USMC (Ret)

To: Mr. Patrick Francescon
Legislative Aide
C/O Senator Tim Scott
520 Hart Senate Bld
Washington, DC 20510
Subj:  The VA Budgets for the last five years.
Greetings: Mr. Francescon
We have met once during a presentation of proposed legislation by Concerned Veterans for America and I stopped you at one of the monuments on the Mall this week and asked for your card so that I could send you the following:
Is there criminal activity in the following narrative?  This story is peanuts compared to what follows.  It is time that all of us demonstrate our outrage at these activities of the VA
I have been working on this discussion for almost a year and I am certain that the problems I surface are known to you or should be known to you.  Read it as you see fit, but make sure Senator Scott is acutely aware of the issue.
I would like to be clear.  My concerns extend beyond the current problems of the VA.  But the VA is an example of a Government agency that has the power to visit both good and evil on the everyday American citizen.  In our case with the VA, those who served, share a common history and perhaps a common bond in that at some point in our lives we swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and we did so at the time by serving our nation in its armed forces.  For a single hitch or a career.  In war or in peace, we did our part to the ability of our lights and gifts provided by our creator.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a retired service member, so I do not need the services of the VA at the present time.  This in no way lessens my concerns for my brother veterans.

I am assuming that some one on the staff of Senator Scott has the job of VA issues.  If you are not that person, would you kindly route the package to the proper person.  I am out of words, energy and ideas that help vets get the service they deserve so I am relying on you and your peers to make things right for our warriors.

Today the VA health care system has grown from 54 hospitals in 1930 to include 171 medical centers; more than 700 outpatient, community, and outreach clinics; 126 nursing home care units; and 35 domiciliaries.  The VA employs nearly 280,000 people and has requested a 2015 Budget of $163.9B out of a total of 3.901T.  This represents 4% of the nations spending.  Next to the Department of Defense, VA Affairs, now a Cabinet post, has a higher level of funding than any of the rest of the Cabinet departments.

We have a problem in our house.  It’s a give-a-hoot problem. Less than one percent of our population is on active duty or in the Reserves or Guard units.   What this means is that unless you have a direct relative (father, son, daughter, etc.) who has made multiple deployments to the mid east or has been killed or wounded in combat you are emotionally disconnected from the suffering of the veteran and of his family.  You may feel empathy, but there is no sense of loss, suffering or financial stress.  Without a larger population of military personnel this condition will never change, but it is not hopeless.  The term most commonly used for this condition is "Skin in the game".  Even a 25-year veteran like myself has no skin in this game. If you, are like me, believe that war (American war fighting personnel and/or equipment invades the land mass or the skies over said land mass of a sovereign nation)  is the responsibility of the legislative branch, then our current ability to apply military force to a foreign nation is way out of line with our Constitution.  However, if we are correct about the responsibilities of the Congress, then part of the duties of a declaration of war is to make sure the entire nation has skin in the game whether they like it not.  If not, then they can replace those that voted for a declaration of war.  The easiest way to do this is levy a Federal Sales tax.  There can be no exceptions because you want every citizen to wake up each morning and ask the question... is this war the right thing to do.

If you do not have skin in the game, there is a better than even chance that Iraq and Afghanistan are a long way off and have no impact on you or anyone you know.

Without this connection, its possible that over 300 million Americans find it hard or impossible to be an activist or even show interest for VA issues.  As a side note, this lack of skin in the game makes it a lot easier for the Executive Branch to initiate hostilities when he/she KNOWS that there will be no response from the voting public because the fighting, dying, suffering and unspeakable sacrifice is done by less than one percent of the population and believe it or not they do not have the support nor lobbying powers of the same people who sent them in hams way.  This apathy is dangerous.

I have been a participant recently in lobbying my state's US senators and house members in their offices to consider legislation that touches VA issues around its edges.  The legislation is not without value, but it is a far cry from reforming a unionized bureaucracy.  Regardless of what many will tell you, a voice of one without billions of dollars behind him is a voice unheard.  I should know.

There are lots of issues that you and your peers must handle each day and they all seem important.  If the government sends men and women to die and be maimed in some mindless extension of a failing foreign policy and then allows their return to society to be  anything but their first priority every day then the government's priorities and its national pride and traditions are marginalized to the  point of emptiness.

So what's to be done?  For me, I pick a single issue within the VA and make every effort to put this issue in front of folks like you.

My concern is the apparent waste, and I would presume illicit or illegal budgetary misuse of tax payer dollars.  This is not news.  This is old boring waste and theft of the taxpayers money.  I can feel the need to yawn myself.

Please hear me out!

Lets look at FedEx for a moment and consider a comparison:  You may agree that the US Marine Corps puts heavy emphasis on mission accomplishment. This skill is one that translates to the civilian world easily.  So if we look at Fed Ex's numbers, you will see a dramatic dichotomy in their comparison to the VA.

Annual FedEx Revenue
$39.3 billion
Number of packages shipped annually by FedEx
1.2 billion
Total miles traveled each day by FedEx couriers (equivalent to 100 trips around earth)
2.5 million
Number of countries and territories FedEx delivers to
Number of full time FedEx employees
Percent of shipped packages lost by FedEx
0.55 %
Highest Historic Stock Price Feb 17, 2007
Lowest Historic Stock Price May 6, 1980
Number of delivery vans in the FedEx fleet
Number of airplanes in the FedEx fleet
FedEx air fleet total daily lift capacity
30 million pounds
Total daily miles traveled by the FedEx air fleet
Amount FedEx paid to acquire Kinko’s
$2.4 billion in cash
Highest FedEx employee salary – IT Manager
Lowest FedEx employee – Customer Service Representative
$10.42 / hour

The IT department of Fed Ex has a budget of $1B per year with which they control, by the minute, those activities I just mentioned and pay for all their R&D.

Now lets look at what the VA is doing.

As of 2013, there were over 600,000 out of 900,000 claims that are over 125 days old.  This is the problem that is a failure to meet standards set by the VA themselves.  Even these "goals" are arbitrary and, as you are well aware, falsified at every turn.

Here are the budget figures for IT Infrastructure and Documentation improvements from 2011 through 2015

All numbers are in BILLIONS of dollars.

Fiscal Year

IT Infrastructure
Benefit Processing

FY 2011


FY 2012


FY 2013

FY 2014


FY 2015




So the VA spent 16B dollars in these two categories and the backlog skyrocketed to 600,000 waiting over 125 days.  Please note that these budget request continue to this day and there is still a huge if less than 600,000 backlog.

Before he was relieved of duty/resigned, Secretary Shinseki signed a five year $12B infrastructure contract with fourteen Primary Contractors

These 14 Primary Contractors are to run its IT infrastructure project.  Half of the contractors were veteran/8(a) businesses and the other half was a whose who of Crystal City regulars. Try to imagine a project with 14 prime contractors.  When you want to know who is in charge, to whom do you go?

Director Shinseki said that the "T4" contracts…"will enable VA to acquire services for information technology programs that will help insure timely delivery of health care and benefits to our Veterans".  Wrong.

Spending 16B over those three years was not enough to do what is in the quotes.  The selected fourteen companies will compete for task orders to integrate VA systems, network and software to modernize the VA's information technology infrastructure.  Nothing in the report I read even hinted that there was going to be any effort to ensure that each of the 14 companies produce/procure hardware/software that was compatible with what the other 14 guys were doing and with what had already been done.  So after spending the $16B the systems are still not modern.  This year, the "T4" contract was turned into the "T4NG" project and applied an additional $22B over five years with a possible five year extension. It was interesting to note that in five years of Major Appropriation Issues the acronyms of "T4" or "T4NG" do not appear.  One hates to guess where this money comes from but more importantly where does it go!  A single $22B contract that has no visible funding line?

(Patrick: It is really hard to be nice and polite when thinking of those who bleed the nation of its resources for reasons of greed, rice bowl maintenance and power retention. )

A contract of this size requires a government project manager superman to keep this bunch of folks in line and to keep a $12B program from turning into a $35 B program.  Sorry, its already turned into $22B contract.  If the VA is anything like the Department of the Navy, (I was a supporting contractor for a Navy black program) there is no where near enough expertise in all 300,000 employees to even define what their IT and documentation needs are.  If there were, they would not need this contract. Here is what  the VA's Technical Acquisition Center says the goals of the T4NG contract are: "...acquire IT and Telecommunication services for program management and strategy planning, system/software engineering, enterprise network, cyber security, operation and maintenance and IT facility support".  So the VA is going to spend $28B over five years out of its normal budget process but will be adding, off budget apparently, $22B to fix, redo, modernize or some other meaningless expression to what has just been done but is totally unsat.

This much money brings out the worst in all of us.  Losing bidders before the ink was dry was challenging this contract.  The details are a repetition of most large government contracts and are ho hum in the land of the Beltway Bandit.  But this time, our wounded band of brothers is the target for getting screwed by greed, ineptitude, arrogance and the abyss of red tape ready and waiting courtesy of the existing unionized bureaucracy.

Is the status of fraud, waste and abuse so engrained in our government that our representatives seem to yawn when almost $51B dollars has or will be spent with no visible change in waiting periods for the veterans that can be attributed to what has been and will be spent?

Some where in this mess, a group of employees and contractors are directly or indirectly enriching themselves at the trough of the American taxpayer.  Should anyone in DC really want to fix the VA department, just make all 300,000 employees join the same health plan as the veterans.

So, why does no one ask the VA a couple of questions:
Show me the hardware and firmware that my money purchased.
Show me the single database software you are using for ALL of the VA.  Show me the database search engine and its ability to query every piece of data the VA owns.  For the single database, show me a list of database managers who are schooled and certified in this single database.  Are they the same people that were submitted in the proposal response to the RFP and who will stay with the project for no less than two years.
What telecommunications network?  Where is the requirement statement for such a network. How many management hours are charged to each of the 14 prime contractors.  Charges that produce not one line of code or one minute of bug testing, discovery and fix.

What if these questions have already been asked but we don't know the answers.  Answers that may have been in some email on some unknown server and erased contrary to VA and GAO accounting procedures?  Your mail, email, phone calls and personal visits must clearly show that the American public does not trust its own government.  All these negatives notwithstanding, lets keep sticking the issues with our trusty lance.

Lets assume that this money reduces the more than 125 day wait for veterans from 600,000 to 50,000.  The cost to bring each veteran out of the 125 day wait is one million dollars per veteran.  My arithmetic must be wrong.  No one would do this to America's taxpayers.

This discussion has been about a very small portion of the VA Budget.  Yet, if my observations are close, if the National Debt continues to rise past $18T, if the Fed and Treasury continue to print money based on just a promise to honor its debts, if Servicing the National Debt reaches $1T a year, if revenues do not increase past $3+T then this nation and its experiment in Democracy are in a "Clear and Present Danger".

Where you work is intoxicating.  The power, privilege and perks available to Congressmen and Senators and their staffs is far too habit forming for any normal human to withstand.  Washington is no longer the Washington of Jefferson.  Every news program points to a body of evidence that men and women who have fallen to the power of money abound in Washington's government.  This is unhealthy and unbefitting a nation of our stature.

The solution to the ills of the VA and all the rest of the departments that work with a unionized work force is to separate unions from the government.  Since this chore is immeasurably difficult and may be impossible, it is in your hands to find a way out, you are now the Best and Brightest.  Help this land that is unique in world history and help the Veterans, not with money, but with a population of vets as employees in the VA and a skipper to run the ship with the power to hire and fire at will.  He should serve at the pleasure of the President but not necessarily at the direction of the President.

Don't trust my analysis, do your own and fulfill the promise this Nation makes to each service member it deploys or sends to war.


Augustus Fitch III
Colonel USMC (Ret)


Friday, April 22, 2016

Wings, Go Figure

Wings, Go Figure

You would think that I tire of experiencing and writing about my metaphorical Strings of Historical Experience.  As you can see, I do not.

When it has nothing to do with motorcycles, RC Aircraft or fishing I am not fond of running errands all over this wonderful little town.  But it is a beautiful day and one may be ecstatic about the future by just breathing in and out.  So, breathing in and out, I walk into my primary healthcare physicians office to make an appointment for my annual physical.  I am only 74, what could go wrong?

As I close the door to the office, my gaze fell on a gentleman that I could have sworn I had seen or met before.  The plasma string does its job and starts spinning around in the abyss while I converse with the person behind the desk and finally set a mutual date for the exam. 

I now have one of my favorite chores of the day that must be done without moving from my current position.  I start with the right wallet and discover what I am looking for is not in that wallet.  I now go for the left wallet and in there, I find a place to put my oversized SSN and VA cards into a secure but visible location.

I know before I turnaround that I am going to speak to man in the chair and see if we have anything in common.  I walk over toward him and he stands before I reach his outstretched hand.  This boy is one of us, some how I know, but not really.

I tell the gent that his face is very familiar but I can not put a name or place to his face.  I sit down across from him and he seems warm and friendly. We touch on the regular places, times and conditions but find no commonality.  I don't believe it for a minute.

Then, out of the blue he blurts out Semper Fi.  My God its another Marine in sheep's clothing.  We do the obligatory, when did you go in and when did you get out fairly quickly and I tell him my experiences with 232 and he immediately gets  a wry smile on his face. 

If you have ever written a Fitness Report you will understand just how hard it is to say something unique about an individual when you are writing 20 or more reports.  I am anticipating some comment that I will remember when I have to write his report.  This is one hell of a long way from "Hey how are you?" to working on a mythical FitRep.  My new brother says nothing and just stares at me. Nothing is forthcoming and I give my new friend by best WHAT! The stories now flow unrestricted.  He recounted several tails of 232 when she was his sister squadron at Kaneohe Bay, HI flying F-8's  I hope my passion for this bad ass looking aircraft was not completely obvious.  I lowered my eyes to think about his memory and they fell on a joyous sight.  This Marine fighter pilot was the only man, other than my best friend Dick Ward who had a set of Naval Aviator wings bent and cut to make a finger ring for nothing more than pride of accomplishment.  He must have had the wings for a long time because back in the day, we used to polish the wings often and with vigor to flatten out the vertical lines on the shield bisecting a fouled anchor.  The object, of course, is to find ways to be slightly different from all the other pilots and look salty.  I told him he was the only guy other than Dick I knew who had a set of wings on his finger and he replied that I was only the second guy he knew who had wings cut and bent.

I find it sort of disappointing that the US Navy spends about $1.5M @ in 1966 dollars to train a Naval Aviator so adding a set of wings for wear on your uniform and another set of wings to wear on a finger does not seem excessive.  They could make it optional and have the Aviator pay a part of the cost of the ring.  It's a little bit like being a ring knocker without any BS or BA or date.  Just a plain set of Aviator Wings.  Way cool.

We talked for awhile about the Corps and what was happening to a group that for over two hundred years had done the bidding of the nation and lived up to its motto, "Always Faithful".  That loyalty had, for over two hundred years, been abused, slandered, made to do without except an order to do even more with less and seldom shielded the soldiers of the sea from the greed and avarice of the politics of the DC elite and their one and only loyalty toward reelection.  It must take a special kind of character to intentionally make a decision that will enrich you personally and at the same time cause financial, physical and/or mental anguish for millions, many whom voted for you.  They are able to do this because they can spin a story of corruption or greed or avarice, take you pick, just to get reelected.

Do you sleep well?  If so, WHY!  Because there is soooooo much money in DC, most of it from taxpayers, it can be used to gain access to the inner sanctum's of the decision making process. Decisions made in the halls of the offices of the Senate and the House are as likely to be compacts with the devil as not.  The reader may have a different view, but if you get the opportunity have a one on one with one of these guys, you will not be surprised at the shallowness of their personalities.  They have reasons:  They are in and out of meetings, hearings, speech making on the floor, TV, Radio and Twitter deadlines, selling their souls to get the money to run again for this ungodly and, according to most polls, the lowest rated profession in all of America.  Why?  Two reasons.  One, they can make a fortune while in office and two, in less than a week on the job, they will have become addicted to the power, the perks and the privileges of the office.

This may be the most powerful of addictions on the planet.  There are few acts, natural and unnatural they won't perform, lies they won't tell, stories they won't spin but most of all the screwing they will give to the American taxpayer just to get reelected.

I met a stranger today who turned out to be one of the better representations of a Band of Brothers who. strangely, like most of us, is, if not pissed to the max, is incredibly disappointed with all of the "leadership" that goes missing every minute of every day.  I find myself speaking of four star officers who may have, at one time, been combat leaders of the very best quality, would crawl over razor wire to take care of their troops, insured that all of worth were rewarded in kind and saw to care and feeding of the stressed families at home.  Now, in terms that are as odious to write as they are to read they have become, just to stay alive in the DC political arena, cowards and weaklings who will not stand up for the fighting force in which, at some time in the past, he served as a military commander, a motivator, steadfast in combat, loyal to those who work until they can give no more and those who are killed and maimed in a war that these same four stars are now responsible for executing.  The civilians take the training money and these so called Joint Chiefs of Staff wring their hands and huddle in fear of a non-combatant, pencil necked geek who expects loyalty up the chain but has no thoughts of loyalty down the chain.  These five see their fighting forces dwindling to third world capability and do nothing.  They see men with whom they  serve and served being driven from the service, relieved of command without cause, speak truthfully of conditions but speak in way that is not in alignment with current policies.  They see all this and do nothing.  Not one resignation in protest to policies and ROE that puts Airmen, Soldiers, Marines and Sailors in harms way and denies them the tools and rules to kick ass and win a military victory from a rag tag 7th century bunch of uneducated yet fearsome individuals.  While knowing that a permanent or long term ground victory is almost out of the question, these same four stars allow their troops to be rotated and rotated and rotated until they have burned the fire from their hearts, lost wives and children to the frequent and long separations and with a criminal, my opinion, sense of apathy toward our combat veterans abrogated their last vestige of military discipline and loyalty from all who, by law, must follow the orders from those who now lack the moral authority to participate any further in their current positions and rank.  As if to partially make up for past failures, they should all stand up in front of every MSM TV camera and resign in mass and tell their story of the last seven years of waging war under the current administration.  It is the very least they can do.

All I really wanted to do was tell you about the ring on the finger of a fellow Marine combat pilot.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Why An Early Get Up

Why An Early Get Up
Gus Fitch
5 January 2016

Its 0645 on the bank of Golden Pond on Club Drive.  Before I took these shots, the sky and its contact with the pond's water are black.  There is not enough light for a mirror image, yet.  Some where straight ahead just out of sight, is an owl who is "singing" like no owl I have ever heard or seen.  The bird's utterances are so loud that the raptor seems sitting on your shoulder.  It is the only distraction from the ground fog that covers the pond and softens the details of any object or living thing.

Decades ago, I was taught in flight school that several conditions must exist before ground fog can be seen. First, the dew point and the temperature must be within 2-4 degrees of one another and there should be a breeze of four knots, no more, to stir the air and give birth to a weather phenomenon that floats only a couple of inches above the surface of the earth and does not usually get higher than a six foot man.  Between these limits, visibility is zero until the warmth of new day heats the air and returns the ground fog to liquid droplets or back to a gaseous water vapor.  The sensitivity of ground fog to the delta between dew point and temperature may be visualized by an early morning ride with Rex Decker.  We were motoring east on I-90 in South Dakota when we entered a stretch of road, I know not its length, that was marked by very sine wave moguls each less than a hundred feet in altitude.  The low point of each wave was filled with ground fog.  You had to slow down to a crawl because all that was visible as we descended to the bottom of each mogul, was the white center line of the Interstate.  We would slowly motor up the front of the next mogul and come out of the fog long enough to take a deep breath and descend again into the white void.  Since the moguls were so shallow, we were amazed that 100 feet, with less than one degree in temperature and due point spread change, could make such thick ground fog.

This misty cloudlette always seems to add a sense of foreboding to any scene in which it plays a part.

What lies behind, under or within the visual barrier?  No one knows with the possible exception of the Shadow.  It's all about imagination, yours and mine.

Let there be no argument that the beauty of the surrounding landscape is softened, the objects of the pond are put out of focus, the fog's light bending powers changes the color of the water, the vegetation but most especially the sky.  An observer need not feel or see the ground fog covering him up to impact all things seen.  Any amount of liquid water suspended in the air will put the mark of nature on its colors and forms.

The photo, close by, was taken at 7:06AM and there is a mild chill in the air and the surface of the pond is a perfect mirror even in these poor light conditions.  I am standing with the water over the ankles of my water and snake proof boots. I have both hands on my spinning rod imitating some Samurai warrior and I am like a statue in a town square...immovable and gray.  If I should take a selfie at this moment, I am sure my mouth would be open signifying my complete absorption in taking it all in.

I am most familiar with this pond.  As a result, I note the differences that I see on a clear sunny day compared to what I am looking at now.  I can not see the storm fallen pine lying flat in the water with Bream and Bass using its boughs as hiding places from larger predators. But, I know its there and its presence is comforting.  The pine's profile will soon have its veil lifted and the black and shadow encrusted object will reveal the last few green Long Leaf needles and the rough texture of its bark.  I see these things in my head and wait until I can, once again, view the whole object as it's enemies coordinate their efforts to remove the last living cells from its proud trunk and roots. Like us all, it passes away.  Although the pine and a best friend may end up as ashes, death, lacks the ability to rob us of our memories, our passions and verbal recollections shared with a best friend in times gone by.

Soak it all up at every opportunity.

Soak what up?  I do not have a clue. I only know I feel it when I can start a conversation with a perfect stranger and have the stranger join in the conversation to create a dialog about any given subject. Appropriately, I also feel it in what might be called my "soul".  This may be an emotionally charged word, but the beauty that surrounds us, envelops us, caresses us and provides a visceral sensation of goodness, attaches itself to our better angels and we are better off because of the power of beauty.

To paraphrase a line from the "Dead Poets Society"...suck the marrow out of life every day.

It may be trite, but for those of my generation..." the end cometh, and that right soon", makes the reality of a human frailty, death, as much a part of life as birth.  However, the fact that death is closer to us now than it was 50 years ago seems sad to contemplate.  What is sad to contemplate is our propensity to allow so many opportunities to slip away through slough and apathy.  We squander the chance to absorb the contents of character and the possibility of friendship of a fellow human traveler.  These opportunities, frittered away, can not be restored.

Here, from one far more skilled than I:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Carl Sandburg