You are on page 1of 45

By Daniel R.

Gaita, MA, LMSW

The North Charleston VA Vocational


Rehabilitation Survey
Sponsored by Operation Vet Fit
Published July 26th, 2018

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 1


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

Background
Why a survey of this location?

In February, 2018 I accompanied one of our combat veterans to the


North Charleston VA Vocational Rehabilitation office to assist in utilizing
this benefit toward the completion of a Bachelors Degree. What I
witnessed that day was the utter obstruction of the intent of the program
by several of the counselors, the site manager, and even the regional
Vocational Rehabilitation Director. Following this, I was contacted by
more veterans that were articulating the same hardships at this location.
As a result, In my capacity as an LMSW, I saw that it was my responsibility
as an advocate to investigate these claims in hopes of identifying the root
causes as well as working to formulate solutions to what I had observed.

As a result, our combat veterans advocacy agency, Operation Vet


Fit, sought resolution by contacting the Columbia Regional VA Director in
hopes of identifying the causes of our veterans’ frustrations at this
specific location. On June 28th, 2018 a meeting was set up to discuss the
cases brought before our agency.

In attendance at this meeting were two of our aggrieved veterans,


the S.C. Columbia Regional VA Director, Leanne Weldin; The S.C.
Columbia Regional Vocational Rehabilitation Director, Paul Knight; North
Charleston VA Vocational Rehabilitation Director, Lurlene Scott; and the
Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors called into question: Robert Moffitt
and Gerald Sealey.

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 2


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

During this meeting our agency was informed that the complaints
from our veterans were both minimal in occurrence and isolated. As a
result, I requested the data that they might have to support that assertion.
They could offer none, stating that, "The VA does not conduct regional
surveys of individual locations” (Leanne Weldin).

As a result, I volunteered our agency to conduct such a survey at no


charge to the VA and asked that the location share a link to our online
survey here: http://www.operationvetfit.org/vasurvey with all of their
serviced veterans via email.

They declined, citing privacy concerns. I then offered a solution to


the privacy concern by providing an option for a survey that was both
anonymous and confidential. They again declined, this time citing policy
concerns. I informed them that our agency would then have to reach out
to their serviced veteran population via social, print and broadcast media
as well as submission of a request for Congressional order to allow the
anonymous survey link to be sent to their veterans. An answer on our
request for a Congressional Order is still pending.

On July 6th, 2018 our agency went live with the online survey and
promoted the survey link via social media outlets, as well as submitting
media requests and press releases to all area outlets. On July 9th, 2018
Local News Channel 2 Investigative Reporter, Libba Holland conducted
an interview and ran a story on the survey and the complaints: https://
www.counton2.com/news/local-news/operation-vet-fit-launches-survey-
to-investigate-practices-of-charleston-s-vocational-rehab-facility/
1292367860 .

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 3


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

Since then, the data coming in appears to be shedding light on a


localized instance of systems dysfunction at the expense of our disabled
veteran population. The results included herein represent the data
received thru our survey as of July 26th, 2018.

Caution must be taken when interpreting these results as the


sample population is still not statistically strong due to low survey
participation rate; underscoring the importance of collaboration in
sharing the survey link with all the veterans that have used that
program at the North Charleston Location.

It is our hope that this survey can compel the leadership at the
Veterans Affairs to instruct this location to share the survey link with all of
their serviced veterans at that location. This request by our agency is cost
neutral and only requires a single email be sent to their veterans that
have used the program at that location.

The results of this survey will be shared with the President of the
United States, US Congress, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Respectfully Submitted,

Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 4


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

Survey Questions
The Survey as it appears here: http://
www.operationvetfit.org/vasurvey

This survey was done utilizing a five-point Likert scale


inclusive of the following answers and values for each: Strongly
Disagree = -2; Disagree = -1; Neutral = 0; Agree = +1; Strongly
Agree = +2. Complete survey and instructions follow:

"Dear Fellow Veterans,

Help us independently evaluate your North Charleston Veterans Affairs


Vocational Rehabilitation office. Your input can help to shape the future
experiences of our veterans and offer critical insight on a program that has the
potential to sharply improve the trajectory of our disabled veterans’ lives. This
survey is both anonymous and confidential.

Qualifying Question:

I have had personal experience with the North Charleston VA


Vocational Rehabilitation Office - (Are you a US veteran that sought services
through the North Charleston VA Vocational Rehabilitation Office? If so, this is
your opportunity to provide anonymous feedback while keeping your identity
confidential. We are not affiliated with, paid by, contracted through or funded
by the VA, DOD or any other government agency. All data is being privately
collected through our agency, Operation Vet Fit. Results of this study will be
provided to the South Carolina, Columbia Regional VA office Director, The
Secretary of the VA, Congress and the President of the United States for their
use in understanding and improving future VA services governed in this
jurisdiction.) Yes or No

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 5


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

Satisfaction Survey *

Please answer the following questions so that we may provide as


much service satisfaction information as possible.

1. I had no problems or issues with this office

2. My objectives and goals were respected

3. My Voc Rehab Counselor supported my career objectives

4. They supported my desire to earn a college degree

5. They seemed more interested in getting me a dead end job

6. They made me feel concerned that I would lose my service


connected disability income benefits if I got a college degree through the
program

7. The process was smooth and easy to utilize

8. They recommended I get a college degree through the program

9. They attempted to discourage me from attaining a college degree

10. My counselor claimed to be the gatekeeper of taxpayer dollars

11. I felt empowered when I left that office

12. I felt humiliated when I left that office

13. I felt optimistic when I left that office

14. I felt discouraged when I left that office

15. I felt angry when I left that office

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 6


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

16. The VA Video about the Voc Rehab program matched my experience
in the North Charleston Voc Rehab office

17. If I had any issues, I was able to count on a manager or supervisor to


assist

18. My counselor was always timely in processing required paperwork to


ensure my housing/living subsidy continued

19. I really felt like a valued member of the veteran community through
this program

20. They seemed more eager to get me to use the SC Works


employment services to find a job rather than helping me get an education
in order to attain a better career path

21. They seemed more concerned about my prior life "issues" than my
future life goals and objectives

22. My counselor came across as condescending

23. My counselor was very professional and helpful

24. I'd recommend this program to other veterans

25. I left the program or office out of frustration

26. I refuse to use that office for Voc Rehab services

27. I have filed a complaint against this office or my counselor and it was
handled effectively

28. Any complaints I have had against my counselor were ignored

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 7


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

Additional Information Gathered

1. My VA Voc-Rehab Counselor Name * - Who was or is your vocational


rehabilitation counselor at this North Charleston VA Voc Rehab office? -
First Name, Last Name

2. My Gender

3. My Age

4. My VA Disability Rating % is

5. Branch of Service

6. Rank at time of EAS

7. Email Address - OPTIONAL: If you would like to be included in


follow up surveys about VA services leave your email for us to use to inform
you of future surveys. Your email address will remain confidential. Your
answers to this survey will remain anonymous.

8. Message - OPTIONAL: Feel free to provide any further information


that may be helpful in articulating your experiences at this North Charleston
VA Vocational Rehabilitation office.

The survey data was then submitted via "Submit" button and the
data stored in a secure cloud based location in spreadsheet format for
statistical analysis.

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 8


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

Survey Results
As of the date of this publication, "We've not had a single survey
participant demonstrate a positive experience at the North
Charleston VA Vocational Rehabilitation Office." - Daniel R. Gaita, MA,
LMSW

Participant demographics and Likert scores for each of the survey


questions are provided below:

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 9


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

Survey Population Demographics

Average Age and Disability Rating


90

81.7

67.5

45
41.9

22.5

0
Average Age Average Disability Rating

Military Rank Distribution


0.6

57.14%

0.45

0.3
28.57%

0.15
14.28%

0%
0
E1-E3 E4-E6 E7-E9 Officer

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 10


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

Gender
0.9

85.72%

0.675

0.45

0.225

14.28%

0
Male Female

Survey Questions and Scoring Results

I had no problems or issues with this office


0.9 85.7%

0.675

0.45

0.225
14.28%

0% 0% 0%
0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 11


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

My objectives and goals were respected


0.5

42.8% 42.8%

0.375

0.25

14.3%
0.125

0% 0%
0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

My Voc Rehab Counselor supported my career


objectives
0.6 57.1%

0.45

0.3 28.6%

14.3%
0.15

0% 0%
0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 12


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

They supported my desire to earn a college degree


0.6 57.1%

0.45

0.3

14.3% 14.3% 14.3%


0.15

0%
0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

They seemed more interested in getting me a dead


end job
0.5

42.9%

0.375

28.6%

0.25

14.3% 14.3%
0.125

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 13


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

They made me feel concerned that I would lose my


service connected disability
0.3 28.6% 28.6% 28.6%

0.225

0.15 14.3%

0.075

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

The process was smooth and easy to utilize


0.8
71.4%

0.6

0.4

28.6%

0.2

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 14


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW
They recommended I get a college degree through the
program
0.8
71.4%

0.6

0.4

0.2
14.3% 14.3%

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

They attempted to discourage me from attaining a


college degree
0.8
71.4%

0.6

0.4

28.6%

0.2
14.3%

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 15


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

I felt empowered when I left that office


0.8
71.4%

0.6

0.4

28.6%

0.2

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

I felt humiliated when I left that office


0.8
71.4%

0.6

0.4

0.2
14.3% 14.3%

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 16


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

I have filed a complaint against this office or my


counselor and it was handled effectively
0.5

42.9%

0.375

28.6%

0.25

14.3% 14.3%
0.125

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

I felt optimistic when I left that office


0.8
71.4%

0.6

0.4

0.2
14.3% 14.3%

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 17


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

I felt discouraged when I left that office


0.5

42.9% 42.9%

0.375

0.25

14.3%
0.125

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

I felt angry when I left that office


0.8
71.4%

0.6

0.4

0.2
14.3% 14.3%

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 18


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW
The VA Video about the Voc Rehab program matched
my experience in the North Charleston Voc Rehab
office
0.3 28.6% 28.6%

0.225

0.15 14.3% 14.3%

0.075

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

If I had any issues I was able to count on a manager


or supervisor to assist
0.44 42.9%

0.33
28.6% 28.6%

0.22

0.11

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 19


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW
My counselor was always timely in processing
required paperwork to ensure my housing living
subsidy continued
0.5

42.9% 42.9%

0.375

0.25

14.3%
0.125

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

I really felt like a valued member of the veteran


community through this program
0.44 42.9%

0.33
28.6% 28.6%

0.22

0.11

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 20


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

They seemed more eager to get me to use the SC


Works employment services to find a job rather than
helping me get an education in order to attain a
better career path
0.5

42.9% 42.9%

0.375

0.25

14.3%
0.125

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

They seemed more concerned about my prior life


issues than my future life goals and objectives
0.6 57.1%

0.45

0.3 28.6%

14.3%
0.15

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 21


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

My counselor came across as condescending


0.6 57.1%

0.45

0.3 28.6%

14.3%
0.15

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

My counselor was very professional and helpful


0.5

42.9% 42.9%

0.375

0.25

14.3%
0.125

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 22


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

I'd recommend this program to other veterans


0.5

42.9%

0.375

28.6%

0.25

14.3%
0.125

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

I left the program or office out of frustration


0.5

42.9%

0.375

28.6%

0.25

14.3% 14.3%
0.125

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 23


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

I refuse to use that office for Voc Rehab services


0.6 57.1%

0.45

0.3 28.6%

14.3%
0.15

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

Any complaints I have had against my counselor were


ignored
0.6 57.1%

0.45

0.3 28.6%

14.3%
0.15

0
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 24


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

Discussion
Overall findings raise concerns

We've not had a positive survey as of this date. Each survey


respondent has articulated similar issues at the North Charleston
location. More survey participation is required to more accurately
determine if these are only isolated incidents, or a more systemic
issue at this location. The current data seems to suggest the VA's
national Vocational Rehabilitation program is not being
administered according to its national vision at the North
Charleston location.

Having had successful personal experience with this


program for over two-decades in other states, I am confident in
blowing the whistle that what I personally witnessed in the North
Charleston location is absurdly out of line with the intent of the
program.

Individual Examples

I would professionally identify the issues observed as being


the result of occupational burnout and workplace apathy. More
specifically as they apply to each of the below listed employees
and instruments tasked with administering this program at this
location:

1. Paul Knight, the South Carolina Regional Director for the


VA's Vocational Rehabilitation Program has demonstrated a

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 25


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

pattern of supporting counselors at this location despite written


complaints by our veterans and our agency. He has demonstrated
a pattern of creating needless barriers to successful utilization of
the program while ignoring veterans that brought complaints
directly to him.

In one such example during the June 28th, 2018 meeting he


informed one of our veterans that he would run out of time to
utilize the program if he chose to go for his Masters Degree in
Social Work. Were it not for me informing him that plans can be
altered and or adjusted if disabling conditions worsened and at
the discretion of the vocational rehabilitation counselor/manager,
the Regional VA Director, Mrs. Leanne Weldin would have stood
by his statement as she is counting on Paul Knight to provide
management and legal access to the program per the guidelines
set forth in (USC10) 38 USC Chapter 31. (http://
uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=/prelim@title38/part3/
chapter31&edition=prelim)

What I have seen from Mr. Knight may be the result of


individual apathy or perhaps general occupational burnout. I
make this good-faith observational opinion based on the fact that
it takes far more paperwork to alter a veteran’s vocational plan
than it does to just let him quit the program out of frustration or
time expiration.

Furthermore, it is much easier to hand off a veteran to the


local S.C. Job Works employment program than it is to guide
them through a four year degree program where things like

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 26


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

tuition, books, and supplies require additional administration and


leg work on the part of the VA counselor every semester.

While Mr. Knight maintained professional tact during the


June 28th, 2018 meeting, his previous email trail and phone
conversations were out of line and combative in nature. He
refused to consider that something was wrong. He continually
defended the counselors when our veterans complained. Despite
our agency providing him with formal letters and evidence
detailing our observations of abuse and neglect, he did
nothing and made contacting the Regional Director, Leanne
Weldin, near impossible.

In fact, it was not until we began filing Congressional


appeals for our veterans via Congressman Sanford’s office, to the
Columbia Regional Office, that we were able to obtain Mrs.
Weldin’s contact information. This needless delay and
obstruction in obtaining her contact information occurred
from February thru June 2018.

Coercion through economic threat - In several of our


conversations on the phone and in our meeting, Mr. Knight
repeatedly used the narrative that veterans who are collecting
VA disability for being individually unemployable risk losing
their monthly disability income by using the program. It was
not until I advised him and our veterans that VA Disability is not
governed by Vocational Rehabilitation, but rather VA's
Compensation and Pension Board that he changed his position.
At the same time, Director Weldin was in agreement with me on
this point.

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 27


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

I had to remind him, in the presence of the Regional


Director, that VA Disability ratings can not be reduced without
a proper disability and pension re-evaluation. These re-
evaluations occur independently of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Since this is the identical threat (fear of losing disability


benefits) used to obstruct one of the veterans I had accompanied
at an initial evaluation in February, it seemed evident that the
language used by counselor, Gerald Sealey, in February almost
matched the statement made by Mr. Knight, his regional director.
It would then seem logical that this fear tactic would have been
passed from his mouth to theirs. Or worse, it is a strategy used at
this location to minimize counselors case workload. At best, it is a
simple lack of understanding legal language specific to the
program.

Another interesting observation was made when Mr. Knight


began to discuss and defend the need to send our veterans to
"Work" programs to prove they are able to work before using the
vocational rehabilitation program. I had to again remind him that
our veterans are disabled, currently can't attain gainful
employment and first need vocational rehabilitation in order to
get back to work.

If they were able to prove they could work, I argued, then


they must not be disabled I claimed. I further provided the
analogy that what he was telling our veterans and his
counselors to do was the equivalent of telling a person with
no legs to get up and walk before being given a new set of

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 28


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

legs. His positions appeared to defy the very purpose of the


program.

His subjective determinations and broad interpretations of


the program appear to be in direct opposition to their stated
intent.

As a result of these observations, on July 19th, 2018 I


requested, via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA):

"A copy of the current Memorandum of


Understanding (MOU) between the VA North Charleston
Vocational Rehabilitation Office and the SC Works
program.."

The request was sent to both the Regional Director, Mrs. Leanne
Weldin and the North Charleston VA Vocational Rehabilitation Director,
Mrs. Lurlene Scott via email. On July 23rd, 2018 Mrs. Scott replied:

"Mr. Gaita, I have forwarded your request to Dr.


Knight, as he is the Vocational Rehabilitation Division
Chief."

On July 24th, 2018 the requested MOU was furnished per FOIA
request by email from Kimberly Charles (Charles.Kimberger@va.gov) via
Leanne Weldin. The document, (Exhibit 1.), titled:

"Local Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S.


Department of Veterans Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation and
Employment Services Columbia Regional Office, The U.S.
Department of Labor Veterans' Employment and Training Services

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 29


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

and the South Carolina Jobs for Veterans State Grant Veterans
Employment Services Unit and the South Carolina Department of
Employment Workforce" Retrievable here: (https://drive.google.com/
file/d/1c8IznScrXV9ui8L8ki4gW8X9RLilcJK_/view?usp=sharing)

Was executed on September 7th, 2017 and signed by: Leanne


Weldin, Paul G. Knight, Robert Trahan (Director of Veterans' Employment
Services from the U.S. Department of Labor) & Marlin Bodison (South
Carolina Department of Employment Workforce)

1b. Memorandum of Understanding. Upon examination of the


MOU, there does appear to be a void which exists between the language
of the agreement and its overall VR&E implementation. Specifically in:

Section III - Referral Criteria for Labor Market Information and Employment
Services.

Herein the MOU states:

"Vocational Rehabilitation (VR&E) will refer 100 percent of all


veterans who have been found entitled to services for labor
market information (LMI) to the State Agency (SA)"

However, it would appear as our agency has argued, that the North
Charleston location is referring 100% of all veterans to the program,
whether or not the veteran has chosen that track of VR&E Services.

More specifically, that the North Charleston VR&E office staff is


simply treating all of its veterans as though they have selected "Track 1 or
2" which are known as "Re-Employment & Rapid Access to Employment"
even in cases where the veteran may have requested "Track 4" which is
known as Employment through Long-Term Services"

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 30


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

Track Outlines are Retrievable here: (https://drive.google.com/file/d/


13fgclFSC7ntx0xJm2fpm9SxWWJKiyOcU/view?usp=sharing, Page 1-6, Figure 1A-3. Five
VR&E Tracks of Services)1c. VR&E Track Types

A more informative chart of the various Vocational Rehabilitation


"Tracks" is provided below as a screen shot from (Exhibit 2), The
Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Longitudinal Study (PL
110-389 Sec. 334)
Annual Report
2017 for FY 2016
U.S. Department
of Veterans Affairs
Contract No.
VA101V-16-
P-3700 July 31,
2017.

As can be seen in
the image to the
left, the
Vocational
Rehabilitation
(VR&E) program
offers far more
than simple job
search help.

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 31


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

Moreover, it is important to note 83%-92% of National


Vocational Rehabilitation Program participants currently utilize Track
4, compared to less than 10% using tracks 1&2 combined nationally. This
is nearly opposite of what we've witnessed at the North Charleston
location. This observation appears to underscore the concerns of our
agency and aggrieved veterans.

(https://drive.google.com/file/d/13fgclFSC7ntx0xJm2fpm9SxWWJKiyOcU/
view?usp=sharing, Page 3-13)

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 32


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

2. Leanne Weldin, the Columbia S.C. Regional VA Office Director,


when contacted by me, seemed open for discussion and sincerely
concerned about what we had observed and what our veterans were
complaining about. She seemed perplexed that she was so hard to get
ahold of until I pointed her to the VA regional website homepage
(https://www.benefits.va.gov/ROCOLUMBIA/leadership.asp) that
still, as of today, provides no contact emails or phone numbers for
any of the leadership team at that location. Essentially making her
impossible to contact until she reached out to me after I was finally
provided her correct email address ("leanne.weldin@va.gov") from the
S.C. Governors VA Office, thanks to the research of a very helpful Mr.
Forman.

Once we did connect, she was immediately responsive and set up


the June 28th, 2018 meeting with me and our aggrieved veterans at the
North Charleston VA Vocational Rehabilitation Offices located at 4600
Goer Dr. Suite 110 North Charleston, SC 29406.

As a side-note to credit Mrs. Weldin’s integrity, she did inform me


that her background prior to becoming the Columbia Regional
Director was in the arena of VA Disability Claims, and not Vocational
Rehabilitation.

As a result, she has been relying upon Mr. Knight, to manage, direct
and supervise the Vocational Rehabilitation Program in this entire region.
I professionally advised her, in good faith, that Mr. Knight did not appear
to be administering the program as designed. Thus the June 28, 2018
meeting was scheduled.

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 33


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

During the June 28, 2018 meeting, in the presence of Mrs. Lurlene
Scott, the Regional Director, Leanne Weldin, and Paul Knight, another
counselor, Richard Moffet provided another needless barrier based on
misinformation. Specifically when he told one of our veterans that he
could not get his Masters Degree in Social Work through the
program because he had a prior felony conviction and would not be
allowed to get his Social Work license in the State of SC.

While Mrs. Weldin stared at Paul Knight, and Mrs. Scott, they all
nodded their heads in approval to what Mr. Moffet had just stated. At that
time I requested that I be allowed to contact the South Carolina Social
Work Licensing Board to confirm the factual accuracy of his answer which
I questioned. Mrs. Weldin agreed to my request. At which time I
contacted the SC Board of of Licensing at 803-896-8556, where I
inquired if a previously incarcerated person with a felony with a Masters
degree in Social Work was not eligible to become licensed as a social
worker in S.C. The answer was no. A prior felony conviction or
incarceration does not make one ineligible to become licensed.

This was another example of the types of misinformation and


obstruction our veterans have endured at this location. Especially those
who could really have benefited from the program.

3. Robert Moffitt, is one of the vocational rehabilitation counselors


at this location who had the most complaints against him at our agency.
As described earlier, he appeared to be operating off of a different
playbook than the regulations or intent of the program. He has a pattern
of creating needless road blocks that result in program utilization delays
or utilization of the program that is not in line with our veterans’ stated
goals and objectives. Several of our veterans left the program specifically

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 34


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

because of Mr. Moffitt and have accused him of being arrogant,


condescending and a self-described profit "doing the work of God" with
tax payer dollars.

In fact, one observation of several of the counselors is that they


appear to take sadistic pleasure in calling themselves the
"Gatekeepers" of tax payer dollars at the expense of our veterans’
sense of self-worth and motivation.

I can certainly appreciate a staff that exercises fiscal discipline and


conducts its operations as good stewards of tax payer resources. But
what I can not understand is why do they chose to treat the most
seriously disabled veterans, who have demonstrated the greatest
need for vocational rehabilitation, as though they are somehow not
worthy of Track 4 in this program. A program designed specifically for
them.

4. Gerald Sealey, is another of the vocational rehabilitation


counselors at this location. I personally witnessed this individual railroad
one of our combat veterans. This particular veteran had been receiving
mental health and advocacy services through our agency for six months
and had overcome many physical and emotional challenges prior to his
first scheduled appointment with Mr. Sealy in February, 2018. In this case,
the veteran had already worked to apply for and gained acceptance into
college and was scheduled to begin his first semester that March.

Mr. Sealey not only told him he would not be able to use the
vocational Rehabilitation program to pay for his tuition, books and
supplies that semester, but told him he would not do well in college
due to his disabilities. He even went further and told him he would

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 35


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

have to do a six month work-study program through SC Works to see


if he could even work.

I immediately spoke up for the veteran in this meeting and


informed Mr. Sealey that he was violating the intent of the program
and creating obstructions that would only lead the veteran to
withdraw. I also reminded Mr. Sealey that the veteran had already
undergone treatment and services the prior six months through our
agency and that he was already accepted to begin college in less than a
month.

Mr. Sealey did not show care for what I (a licensed mental health
professional) nor the veteran had to say. He was firm in his position that
the veteran would be required to complete the six month work study
program before starting college through his office. I informed Mr. Sealey
that we would be filing a complaint to his manager. At which time he
pointed over his left shoulder at an "I Care" award he received one time,
several years ago, for doing a good job.

Side Note: The veteran in this case ended up having


to use his Post 9/11 G.I. Bill which only covers a
portion of the costs. He has received all A's since
returning to college.

5. Mrs. Lurlene Scott, I was told by Mr. Sealey, that Mrs. Scott is the
manager/supervisor at this location. I am not quite sure what she does or
what her actual job description is as she has patently ignored our agency
and our veterans’ complaints. Until the June 28th meeting.

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 36


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

More specifically, following the veteran’s appointment described


above with Mr. Sealey, I typed up an official complaint while at that
location and directed the administrative assistant to be sure that it was
handed to Mrs. Lurlene Scott for proper action. I simultaneously left
Mrs. Scott a voicemail and emailed the same letter to her. My letter,
emails and calls were never returned. The complaint was ignored.

I then reached out to her manager, Mr. Paul Knight, who


defended their actions and obstructed our efforts to find out who his
manager was for nearly five months. Simultaneously, I had contacted
the Office of Inspector General, and The VA DC Field Office where I was
instructed that the North Charleston VA Vocational Rehabilitation Office is
governed by the Columbia Regional Office (https://www.benefits.va.gov/
columbia/).

However, when I went the website link above, I could find no


contact information for Mrs. Weldin, but did see Mr. Knight listed as the
Regional Vocational Rehabilitation Director (https://www.benefits.va.gov/
ROCOLUMBIA/leadership.asp). Mr. Knight repeatedly ignored my
request for Mrs. Weldin’s contact information. I then began trying to send
Mrs. Weldin emails using various combinations of first and last name with
no success.

Finally, on about June 12th, 2018, a Mr. Forman in the S.C.


Governors VA office provided Mrs. Weldin's email and contact
information. On June 12th, 2018 I sent the following email which opened
the door for helpful dialogue with Mrs. Weldin:

"Mrs. Weldin,

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 37


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

I am not sure if you receive emails at this address but I


was told by Mr. Forman at the SC Governors VA office that
this is your address as nobody seems to have a direct
number to reach you. I’ve tried sending you emails before
with no success. Please confirm receipt of this email and its
historical thread included herein. We need to discuss what
is happening at the North Charleston VA Vocational
Rehabilitation office as soon as possible.

Someone from Congressman Sanfords office should


have or should be contacting you too regarding these
cases.

Again to her credit, Mrs. Weldin replied that same day. Within 24
hours we had scheduled the June 28th, 2018 meeting that has been
referred to herein on multiple occasions.

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 38


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

Solutions
Respect, Retrain and Replace

1. Respect the veteran’s stated goals. What we've


appeared to uncover through this advocacy project and survey is
a lack of proper training on the various VR&E Tracks and their
overall relationship with the discussed Memorandum of
Understanding.

More Specifically: When a veteran says they want to use


Track 4 to go to college, having had applied, earned acceptance,
and enrolled in courses it would be most effective for the VR&E
counselor to support the goals of the veteran and assist with

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 39


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

program compliance to cover costs of books, tuition, fees,


supplies and monthly subsidy.

Instead, what our survey has demonstrated and what I have


personally witnessed is a pattern of misinformation meant to
dissuade the veteran from utilizing track 4, coupled with the
general obstruction of, and resistance to the veterans stated
goals. Worse, is the observed insistence that the veteran prove
employability prior to being vocationally rehabilitated through the
veterans chosen program track.

2. Manage VR&E caseload to avoid occupational


burnout. We were told in the June 28th meeting that this location
manages about
1,000 cases with
each counselor
managing 100-300
individual cases
which according to
the United States
Government
Accountability
Office Report to
Congressional
Committees
report, is the
optimal case load
level: https://www.gao.gov/assets/670/660160.pdf

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 40


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

3. Re-staffing. It is oftentimes most effective to re-staff the


location with a more vibrant, disciplined and effective team that
has proper training and a fresh perspective of the serviced
disabled veteran population of today.

My professional observation of the North Charleston VR&E


office is that it does not reflect highly upon the overall national
program. Specifically:

A. Upon walking through the door our veterans are greeted


by poor professional appearance;

B. If our veterans have an issue with their assigned


counselor, this location lacks access to management and
supervisors who when contacted fail to respond to complaints;

C. The overall environment gives the impression that this is


an office run by employees focused more on federal retirement
than their respective job descriptions.

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 41


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

Exhibits
Exhibit 1: Local Memorandum of Understanding between
the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation
and Employment Services Columbia Regional Office, The U.S.
Department of Labor Veterans' Employment and Training Services
and the South Carolina Jobs for Veterans State Grant Veterans
Employment Services Unit and the South Carolina Department of
Employment Workforce

Full file viewable here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/


1c8IznScrXV9ui8L8ki4gW8X9RLilcJK_/view?usp=sharing

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 42


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

Exhibit 2: Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E)


Longitudinal Study (PL 110-389 Sec. 334) Annual Report 2017 for
FY 2016 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Contract No.
VA101V-16-P-3700 July 31, 2017 Submitted by: Economic
Systems Inc. (PRIME CONTRACTOR) 3120 Fairview Park Drive,
Suite 500 Falls Church, VA 22042 703.642.5225 www.econsys.com
Westat, Inc. (SUBCONTRACTOR) 1600 Research Boulevard
Rockville, MD 20850 301.251.1500

Full file viewable here:https://drive.google.com/file/d/


13fgclFSC7ntx0xJm2fpm9SxWWJKiyOcU/view?usp=sharing

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 43


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

About the Author


Daniel R. Gaita, CPT, MA, LMSW,
the volunteer Founder, Director
and developer of Operation Vet
Fit, a non-profit 501C(3), combat
veterans advocacy agency
recognized by the Department of
Veterans Affairs Mental Health
Services for his ground breaking
research on combat PTSD and
veteran suicide. He is a South
Carolina Licensed Social Worker
specializing in Mental Health and
Military Families; a volunteer
research assistant at the Citadel, inducted into the Phi Alpha Honor
Society while a graduate student at the University of Southern California,
is also a Presidential Management Fellowship Finalist; a participant in
Military Clinical Skills Training and research conducted through the
Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families at
the University of Southern California.

Dan earned his Bachelors in Psychology from combined studies at


the University of Connecticut and Western Connecticut State University,
later going on to complete his first masters degree in Organizational
Leadership at Gonzaga University with a concentration in Servant
Leadership. He recently completed his second masters degree in Social

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 44


By Daniel R. Gaita, MA, LMSW

Work from combined studies at Fordham University and the University of


Southern California, utilizing the Vocational Rehabilitation Program.

Dan is also a disabled and decorated United States Marine, having


earned the Combat Action ribbon, United Nations Peacekeeping Medal,
Good Conduct Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, National
Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Service Medal, Military Unit
Commendation, a two-time Marine of the Quarter, Meritoriously
promoted platoon Honor Graduate from Parris Island, SC, recipient of the
Marine Corps Physical Fitness Recognition award.

Additionally, he is a twenty-five year veteran of the personal fitness


training & health and fitness club industry and a nationally recognized
Master level personal fitness trainer with specializations in weight
management, Pre/Post natal and high risk populations.

He is a sought after veteran advocate known for his asymmetric


approach to achieving social and restorative justice for his served combat
veteran population. Several of his advocacy efforts have garnered local,
State and Federal notoriety and his efforts have directly impacted policy
and legislation specific to the combat veteran population.

Dan can be contacted via email: dan@operationvetfit.org

2018 North Charleston, SC, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Survey, Page 45