WASHINGTON, DC — At a hearing of the Veterans Affairs Committee on July 14, Congressmen Patrick Meehan and Michael Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania alleged mismanagement in three offices of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) based on reports from whistleblowers in VA offices in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Oakland (Ca.)
Later, in a letter to the VA's Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey, the congressmen said the reports of discarded or destroyed mail from veterans "suggest a pattern of misconduct that could well extend throughout the VA." She accepted their invitation to meet in Philadelphia to discuss their allegations.
According to the congressmen, the whistleblower in Philadelphia indicated that 96 boxes and eight filing cabinets full of unanswered, ignored mail from veterans that was brought to the attention of supervisors "disappeared" after management was alerted and may have been destroyed.
In Baltimore, an Inspector General determined that 9,500 veterans' documents and 80 claims folders were "inappropriately stockpiled," which potentially affected the processing of claims.
And whistleblowers in Oakland told Rep. Doug LaMalfa that thousands of claims requests and veterans' documents were either "sitting on a cart, in a janitor's closet or in the hallway by the director's office for years and even decades."
In addition to sending photographs of the boxes and cabinets containing veterans' mail in the Philadelphia VA office to Under Secretary Hickey, the congressmen asked that the following questions be answered in advance of their meeting:
- How do you respond to the allegations that dozens of boxes and filing cabinets full of mail from veterans were hidden or destroyed, leaving veterans without vital information about the benefits they rely upon?
- Where is the mail pictured in the attached photographs, and what efforts are being undertaken to ensure that veterans that have sent these letters receive a prompt response?
- How many individuals at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Regional Office received performance bonuses due to their contribution to lowering the backlog?
- What internal controls exist to ensure that mail from veterans is properly sorted and maintained, and that veterans receive a timely and accurate response from the VA? What additional controls have been implemented since you learned of the OIG (Office of the Inspector General) report and the testimony of whistleblowers?
According to veterans advocate Joe Griffies, who with Ed Cubbage co-hosts the "Welcome Home Show" on WIBG on Saturdays, the willful mismanagement of mail from veterans over a number of years is now being investigated.