strumzilla

​A blog/journal about my life and the stuff I like. Popular subjects include music, guitars, gear, books, movies, video games, technology, humor.

Filtering by Tag: Work

Workplace Drama, Part Deux?

The drama from last summer apparently is rearing its head again with the same provider making accusations of misconduct and wrongdoing against multiple employees. I’m not sure if I discussed it here, but this person had been one of three temporary acting chiefs and ultimately lost that position because of increasingly erratic behavior and outrageous claims against multiple people. Things had seemed calm for several months, but supposedly this provider had been looking into other people’s records and made an accusation against another provider that resulted in a suspension. This is all second hand info, so take it with a grain of salt. The source is an honest and reliable person, but I have a feeling there may be some added drama to the story, whether an intentional exaggeration or not.

Following that, it seemed that this accuser appeared emboldened by this action and resumed the campaign against everyone that had rubbed them the wrong way, including yours truly. At this point, I was fed up with the bullshit enough that I sent an email to our new chief as well as his boss and included the memo I had written back in June. He spoke to me in person about it, and although non commital about anything specific, seemed to agree with my points and endorsed that this issue was a problem centered around the source and not the accused. I’ve not heard anything further, and honestly I don’t expect them to take any serious action other than telling this person to do their job and mind their own business. I’m wondering if this person will go even further off the rails to the point they must take action.

My experience with the leadership at work (in my seven years there) is that they avoid conflict and try for a quick and quiet resolution. Which usually doesn’t involve dismissals or transfers. If nothing else comes out of it, they got a detailed description of how I work now, so there can’t be any protestations of ignorance if there are any issues in the future. There shouldn’t be, as I’m following the same procedures (as directed and endorsed by my supervisors and our colleagues at the regional office) that I’ve always followed. I felt it was important to make sure our relatively new leadership chain (the clinic chief has only been here a month or so, and his boss around a year) was aware of my process.

I’m hoping the leadership will finally understand that this is a purely personal episode and this person is pursuing vendettas against multiple people to serve their own ego and not for the good of the organization or our customers. I stated that this episode was hurting morale and hindering our ability to care for our patients, and I’m hoping if nothing else that will mean something to them. We’ll see.

Drama on television or record is great, elsewhere not so much...

It's been a tumultuous couple of weeks at work and somewhat at school. At work we're hopefully near the end of a cycle that saw one of our doctors going off the rails. She was named an acting chief while they were looking to a hire a new permanent chief after the illness related departure of our former permanent chief.  To distill it down to a few sentences, let's just say she had a bit of a power trip and was butting heads and attacking several people in the clinic. 

We had been friends and supportive co-workers for many years but had a falling out a few months ago when we disagreed about implementation of the Gulf War illness policy. She's relatively new to government service and thought it was within her authority to implement the policy as she saw fit. It isn't, and she can't. But, in most cases we're willing to let individual providers rationalize their own opinions on cases as long as they understand they'll have to defend it if it's appealed or a complaint is filed. But in this case, and as part of her newly acquired (if temporary) authority, she decided the policy needed to change for the whole clinic and had directed our schedulers to change they way they scheduled these exams. 

This is where our big disagreement arose. She has this idea that if a claimed condition doesn't fit within a medical diagnostic criteria, then it's not valid. Something I've tried to explain to her for years is that our specific corner of government service is not strictly concerned with medical criteria. We work in disability claims and it's equal parts legal and even political. The entire philosophy of our claims is based on uncertainty. Our opinions typically include the statement "at least as likely as not", which basically says that if our determination of a claim is that it's fifty/fifty parts for and against the claim, then we grant the claim. 

Compared to what's happened between her and other people in the clinic, this has been pretty tame. Until she decided to go around me and accuse myself and our program analyst of inflating exams unnecessarily.  I have been a fee basis provider for over a year. This means that I am compensated by the exam. In the case of Gulf War exams, they tend to generate not only exams for conditions but also opinions for each condition. So, if a veteran claims four conditions, it results in eight total worksheets and I'm paid for each. The typical claim can generate from ten to twenty exams. Occasionally, that number can go significantly higher. 

I had an exam a month or so ago that was for around twenty claimed conditions but it also generated an equal number of direct opinions as well as fourteen or so Gulf War opinions. It ended up totaling fifty three worksheets. This is the highest number I've ever completed, and it's not typical by any stretch. A typical day for me is around twenty exams. I'm not sure if this is the exam which she questioned, but if not it was a similar one. I've had a few in the forties and many in the thirties. It should be noted that the FTE often don't reach these numbers in the course of a week, much less a day. 

My previous post history tells the story of the relative level of productivity among regular federal employees. Let's just say that they typically underachieve, at least compared to my levels. To make a long story short, she basically accused me and the program analyst of stealing money. Because she questioned the validity of the claims (going back to our fundamental disagreement of Gulf War), then she surmised that meant that any Gulf War related claims/opinions were invalid and shouldn't be billed. Like I said before, she doesn't have this authority. No one at our level has this authority. This is national policy and you're not allowed to take away from a regulation to suit your own needs. For what it's worth, my performance of these exams and opinions was directed before I was ever fee basis and had specific approval by the former chief (on more than one occasion), not to mention that the whole policy was directed by VBA personnel outside our clinic. It's a well established and approved policy that has been in place for a long time before she got here. 

All of this scenario is rather tame to what else she has been doing. To keep it short, let's just say she's accused others of outright fraud, abuse, and even having sex in the clinic. It's all bullshit and an attempt by her to discredit and destroy anyone who's crossed her path. I avoid psychoanalyzing in general, and also because I'm not qualified, but I think her specific pathology has something to do with growing up in an authoritarian regime which tends to encourage similar behaviors in those victimized or oppressed once they possess any power. She's demonstrated a feeling of superiority over others, including her own MD/DO peers. She has never understood that her authority as a doctor is strictly clinical. In the federal system, and in our country for that matter, we don't recognize social castes. Although we do have great inequalities in our country, we don't recognize our defer to people because they are part of a ruling class or aristocracy. She seems to think differently. Although some actions are still pending, it seems apparent they are going to remove her from the temporary position and her application for the permanent position would likely be dead in the water. Honestly, I hope she has enough personal shame to resign from the department if not the government as well. 

Although I know myself and our program analyst didn't do anything untoward or dishonest, it's still stressful to have those sorts of accusations hanging over you, because if they were true they would likely result in termination as well as a permanent black mark on our records. Mostly the stress derived from uncertainty to how far the accusation would go, and that the people passing judgement would be strangers who might be given incomplete and biased information. It appears that nothing will come of this for now, but it's still very troubling to face a sudden unexpected threat to your livelihood. As I have discussed with our program analyst, this was the ultimate betrayal and bridge burning offense from which a person will never come back. 

A year of freedom

This week marks one year as a contractor (fee basis) in my previous job. Fewer workdays, better compensation, and I'm almost exempt from the typical workplace drama (almost). Job security is lower in context, but otherwise there's really no downside. Our mid-range plan is to pay off the house and then we'll reassess. We may stay where we are, we may still pursue that house in the country.

This last year has seen the completion of several original tunes and videos. It's been a great year of development in most creative aspects. I'm not over the moon about anything I've done so far, but I would at least call all my projects successful in achieving what I had in mind in the beginning, and even moreso as learning processes. I expect my highly d̶r̶e̶a̶d̶e̶d̶/̶i̶g̶n̶o̶r̶e̶d̶ coveted creative efforts will likely only increase.  Not that I need more interests, but I've taken up drawing as part of my overall pursuit of visual arts. I hope to combine music, video and illustration in various ways. 

A busy two weeks

It's the Saturday after I completed my first two weeks as a fee basis (contractor) examiner for the VA in essentially the same job I was performing previously. I worked a total of seven days over two weeks and completed a record (for me) of 161 exams. This will result in a take home pay of about four times what I typically make. I don't necessarily think this workload will be typical, and I don't plan on working any more than three days a week going into the future as I was on the verge of burning myself out after four straight days of full speed ahead. I think it is feasible I could maintain an average of 60 a week with one week off a month for a monthly average of 180ish. Doing the math, this would put me right at the max salary for a year. I could earn more, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't authorize any more.

At this rate, I think it's completely feasible to pay off the house in five years and move forward with our plan to have a home on 1-2 acres on the outskirts as well as getting my dedicated music studio built. This will largely depend on a continued steady supply of exams from work. The proposed presidential budget, as corrupt, lopsided, and tunnel visioned as it is, does allow for an increase in funding for the VA, so at least for the near future work should be plentiful. I'm hoping I may look back at this post some day in 5-10 years to confirm my projections were close. It's possible the timeline could be even shorter if they keep supplying me with exams. In the present environment, I'm not having any problems getting extra exams. I was even turning down a few every day last week because I was already swamped with 20+ exams each day. The lazy and ambivalent federalistas in my department are now a source of extra income for me, so as long as they stay around I should have no problem keeping my dance card full. 

Work related updates

Another infrequent update. I've been staying busy at work and school. I can't recall if I ever mentioned it before, but in the wake of a lot of upheaval in the VA system, not to mention crossing over the five year mark last August, I decided to request a change from a full time permanent position to fee basis (contract). This would see me forfeiting any additional deposits to my 401K as well as earning any more rate increase on my federal pension. I'm also technically forfeiting the other federal benefits (healthcare, dental, vision, paid leave) but those losses are negligible. I'm already eligible (and using) my retiree benefits for these and the loss of paid leave becomes irrelevant under the fee basis paradigm.  

What I gain from fee basis is getting paid for the amount of work I do, dictating what schedule I want to work (meaning I can work 5 days, 3 days, take a month off, etc.), and the ability to leave work as soon as I'm finished on any given day. The rate at which they pay (and considering how fast I work), means that if I maintain my current production levels I can realistically take home more money while working fewer days. Although I'll be forfeiting additional increase in my federal pension, it was never going to be a significant portion of my retirement and I will still be able to draw some money when I reach 62.  The 401k (TSP) may be eligible for transfer to another similar IRA type account. I will look into this in the future. Regardless, the cons are minor and the pros are great for this change. 

The decision to change was made in the wake of perceived sweeping changes in the VA (including an increased use of contractors) and the concerns about a new administration coming into power. I made the request in December and received fast and positive feedback from my direct supervisor. In this process, he has actually been the only real support and has moved things along at every step. It's still pending because of sitting in the Dallas VA mailroom for a month (literally) and then sitting on someone's desk in HR until my supervisor personally visited and got them to do their jobs. The complete lack of inertia among many employees in the VA is what gives us a bad name. There are people content to draw a paycheck and all the benefits and perform as little actual work as they can get away with. They act like they're doing you a personal favor just to listen to your request. 

All that being said, hopefully things are in the home stretch now and I can adopt a condensed schedule. My plan is to work Tue-Thu, but I'm requesting that they give me a dense schedule every day in the hopes I can maintain similar numbers. I'm hopeful I can nearly double my current take home pay, but that will be predicated by how much they offer in compensation and how high demand remains. 

Updates, mostly gearish...

The holidays have come and gone. Things at work have been fairly steady, although a certain unnamed individual's attempt to portray himself as a visionary may have backfired on him. Time will tell. Not a lot new to report on the home front. Aeyong and I struck a deal that means she will go to Korea next year with a bigger expense account as well as helping pay for knee surgery for her mother. We would have done that anyway, but she usually tries to only spend money on the traveling costs and tries to just spend time with family. That is probably what she'll end up doing anyway, but I told her to shop if she wants to. Knowing her, she'll spend money on her family if she spends any. 

I, on the other hand, have chosen a decidedly less altruistic path. I'm going to finally get the biggest (in sheer size and cost) item that I've had on my gear wish list for the past five years or so. Drum roll, please. No pun intended. Still scratching the noggin?

It's drums, I'm getting drums. My ultimate musical goal is writing and recording music for myself. If others ever get any enjoyment from it, great. But ultimately, I undertake this process for my own personal fulfillment alone.  I've always aspired to write the music that has most inspired me, and that generally has been heavily weighted towards bands with guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards.  Of those, keys probably open up the sonic landscape the most by virtue of synths and samplers, and If I want to go orchestral or soundtrackish, that's where the keys and synths come in.  That being said, I've always wanted to have a good handle on what I consider the four dominant instruments in popular music. 

I've wanted to learn drums so I could facilitate writing (regardless of the fact you can program drums to sound real or not), so I could improve my sense of rhythm, and just because I love the instrument and I've truly always loved the drummers in my favorite bands. If I were to make a top ten list (the creation of which I generally try to avoid) for guitarists, bassists, keyboardists, and drummers, a healthy chunk of the roster would come from Yes, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Pink Floyd, The Police, and a few others. Of those just mentioned, Bonzo, Bruford, the Professor, and Stewart Copeland are held in my highest regard. Sorry Nick, I love you and wouldn't exchange you for another, but you're not in the same category as those mentioned.  

There are many others, especially in Jazz - the various PMG alumni (Antonio Sanchez, Paul Wertico, Danny Gottlieb), Jack Dejohnette, Steve Gadd, Billy Higgins, Peter Erskine, etc.  There are too many to count actually. Despite the august nature of those mentioned, I'm sure to avail myself of some less steep summits before commencing skyward.  Zeppelin will probably be a starting point, although it will take years to get to a level at which I won't be embarrassed, much less master the beats o' Bonzo. As with bass, guitar, and keys, I'll definitely put a few "unattainable in the near future" tunes in my practice list. One of my long term goals is to be able to perform and record all parts to certain tunes. While they're not as common, there are a few videos of people performing all the parts to songs out there on YouTube and the like (YYZ comes to mind).  

After negotiating with Aeyong, I talked her into letting me get what I consider the best electronic drums on the market, Roland's TD-30KV-Pro series.

http://www.roland.com/products/en/TD-30KV/

 I'm getting electronic drums for multiple reasons. One, they're relatively quiet compared to acoustic drums, and two, they're very powerful and flexible when it comes to sounds and recording. Not to mention all the percussion and drum samples I have on my computers that I can now trigger with these drums. And I anticipate being able to use these indefinitely without feeling the need to upgrade.  I didn't want to wait any longer since I'm not getting any younger, and I will need several years to really start honing my ability to a level I can use in recording.  

Why I love my job(ish)...

Love is probably a bit strong, but there are several things about my job that make me not hate it. To wit:  1.  Regular hours with no nights, weekends, or call (unless I want to work overtime on Saturday to make extra money. Which I don't.)  2.  I'm mostly in control of my day and destiny. In other words, I can work as fast or as slow (usually the former) as I want and I'm not affected by the productivity of others (or the lack thereof). 3.  I have my own office, which is my private sanctuary where I can listen to music, use my iPad, etc. without interference/noise from outside. I sound like I hate people which is not the case, but it's nice to have your own personal space when you have noisy/smelly/etc. co-workers. 4. Kind of related to number one - the work is predictable and manageable. Some days I'm busy all day, but most days there are cushion times built into the schedule so I never feel overwhelmed. 5. Pay, benefits - while federal salaries are normally 10-30% below their civilian equivalents in gross salary, when you consider the benefits (pension, paid leave, health insurance, 401K), then my job is very competitive. Never underestimate the value of a pension. Even if I had been a smart investor and had been saving/investing towards my future since a young age, I most likely would have lost a huge chunk of that in 2008-2009. Because I retired from the Army I will have a very sizable monthly check for the rest of my life, regardless if I work or not. While the federal employee pension isn't as sizable as the military pension, it's essentially the same benefit. Although I do have a 401K that I've been investing in, the federal pension I'll be eligible to receive when I retire will combine with my Army pension and VA disability to essentially ensure that I won't need to work past my mid 60's unless I really want to. Also, the benefit of paid leave is considerable in this job. I worked as a DA civilian and then contractor after I first retired and my annual leave was somewhere around 10 days total. I think I had 10 sick leave days as well. In this job I am authorized 26 days of regular leave and 13 days of sick leave for a combined total of 39 days paid leave per year. And  I've been accruing that amount since I was hired. Most jobs require you to build up tenure to accrue the higher amounts, but not this one. Authorized/paid leave is a huge deal for me. I grew accustomed to 30 days of paid leave per year in my 23 year Army career, and that first year as a civilian with only 10 days of paid leave was a stark contrast to what I was accustomed to. This total doesn't include federal holidays.