Responding to an anonymous tip, the Inspector General for Veterans Affairs sent a surprise inspection to the offices of the Los Angeles VA. The results of that inspection were made public this week and they are damning (PDF).
The IG’s team found benefits documents were placed in employee “to-shred” bins without being processed.
Although we cannot quantify or identify claims-related documents that the VARO may have shredded prior to our review, we found nine claims-related documents that VARO staff incorrectly placed in personal shred bins for non-claims related documents. Eight of the nine documents had the potential to affect veterans’ benefits and one had no effect on the veteran’s benefits.
Because the Los Angeles VARO did not consistently follow VBA’s controls, it is likely that VARO staff would have inappropriately destroyed the nine claims-related documents we found. The shredding of these documents would have prevented the documents from becoming part of the veterans’ permanent record and potentially affect veterans’ benefits.
The VA has been receiving complains of improper shredding of benefits claims since 2008. In classic bureaucratic response, it created a new position for VA offices, the Records Management Officer. The creation of a new permanent position did not stop the erroneous shredding. In fact, the Los Angeles VA did not have an RMO from August 2014 until the IG’s surprise inspection in February.
The VA has a history of destroying documents, but the IG team in this case says it was unable to substantiate claims that supervisors had ordered the shredding. The IG team was also unable to evaluate prior erroneous shredding because the Los Angeles VA did not keep required shredding logs.
The VA IG has launched surprise inspections at a further 10 VA offices to see if the problem is “a systemic issue.” It should not surprise you at this point to learn that nobody was fired or even disciplined. The erroneous shredding was blamed on a lack of training.