Imagine this scene from Afghanistan:
A patrol of American soldiers from Company A is pinned down by enemy fire from a nearby hill.
The company commander calls for artillery support.
“Alpha 6 to Firebase Alpha. Fire mission. Over.”
“This is Firebase Alpha. What is your target? Over.”
“Firebase Alpha, target is enemy troops dug in on Hill 628. Over.”
“Alpha 6, we have identified your target. Time on target is four to 12 months. Over.”
“Firebase Alpha, four to 12 minutes is not fast enough. We need artillery support immediately! Over.”
“Alpha 6, negative on four to 12 minutes. Time on target is four to 12 months. We have quite a backlog here, and you’ll have to wait your turn. Over.”
“This is Alpha 6. Have I reached Saturday Night Live? We are pinned down by enemy fire and you are telling me we won’t get fire support until mid-October? Over.”
“Alpha 6, this is Firebase Alpha. That is correct, and October is an optimistic estimate. It may be next June. Over.”
“Firebase Alpha, what in the world is going on back there? Over.”
“Alpha 6, we are way backed up on fire missions. We only work 40 hours a week, and the union is snapping at our heels. We asked for permission to pay an hour a day of overtime to start clearing up the backlog, but the artillerymen said no.
Vacation time is coming up, and a lot of them have plans. Over.”
“Firebase Alpha, let me speak to your battalion commander! Over.”
“Alpha 6, negative on the CO. He had four hours of comp time on the board, and he’s out playing golf this afternoon. You should see the sand traps in this place! Firebase Alpha out.”
This is, of course, a totally fanciful exchange; it would never take place.
At least, not on the battlefield.
In the halls of the Veterans Administration? Well ...
Last month, the VA announced plans to require its claims processors to work 20 hours a month of overtime to reduce the backlog of claims filed by American soldiers seeking their veterans benefits.
A Tampa Tribune investigation revealed that nearly 70 percent of claims at the St. Petersburg VA office were more than 125 days (four months) old, the point at which the VA considers them to be backlogged.
Nearly half of pending claims were more than 215 days (seven months) old, and more than 7,500 claims had gone unprocessed for a year or longer.
These are claims for everything from Agent Orange exposure to post traumatic stress disorder.
Four months to a year to process them.
The VA already is exempt from the “sequestration” work cutbacks, so that excuse won’t work.
The Trib interviewed a three-year VA employee for reaction.
“People have planned their vacations,” he said. “This is summer and they’ve got all kinds of things planned. This is really not sitting well with anyone.
“Never before in the history of the VA have claims analysts been ordered to work overtime.”
He said he anticipated the union would file a complaint.
A government agency that is supposed to look out for the interests of disabled veterans tolerates four to 12-month processing time, and has never required its employees to catch up on their work?
Here’s a suggestion: contact some of the 7.6 percent of Americans who can’t find work, or some of the millions of other folks whose hours have been cut to part-time employment, and see if they are interested in a government job that will guarantee them five hours of overtime a week.
There just might be a few takers.
And oh yes, back to the guy The Trib interviewed about the agency’s plans to make its employees get caught up: he made one other telling comment on where the problem lies. Of himself and his co-workers, he said:
“We’ve been talking about that all day.”
In the words of Charlie Brown: “Good grief!”
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. In his two years of active Army duty and 30 years in the Florida Army National Guard — none of it in combat — the subject of “overtime” never came up. In the armed forces, you work until the job is done . . . even if you’ve “got all kinds of things planned.”)