VA offices in Baltimore and Philadelphia hid claims, mail

The VA scandal continues to unfold, although primarily through local and regional reporting, demonstrating that the issues of corruption and bureaucratic fraud go beyond just wait lists. Today, Congress will make public the testimony from an Inspector General agent, and it’s not pretty. The IG found that mail and claims were hidden in two separate VA systems, and in Philadelphia the postmarks go back to 2011, and claims were redated to hide their age:

Inspectors surveying Philadelphia’s Veterans Affairs benefits center in June found two stunning signs of disarray: mail bins brimming with claims dating to 2011 and other benefits that had been paid twice.

More alarming, the team from the VA Office of Inspector General found evidence that staff tasked with managing pensions for the eastern United States were manipulating dates to make old claims appear new, according to a report obtained by The Inquirer.

Two whistleblowers say the reforms since the scandal broke open are just window dressing:

Two whistle-blowers who work at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Regional Office, where the offenses were discovered, described the process the same: “cooking the books.”

“They’re hiding the real numbers from the people and saying, ‘We’re catching up to the backlog,’ ” said Ryan Cease, 31, who has worked at the Germantown facility for about five years. “But they’re not. They’re just hiding it.”

These revelations came almost two months after the exposure of the wait-list fraud. The IG received the tip from a whistleblower on June 18, long after one would have assumed that VA executives would have demanded an accounting from the bureaucracies that report to them. By June 18, Eric Shinseki had been gone for nearly three weeks, and before that both Shinseki and the White House repeatedly assured Congress that they were taking immediate action to clean up the corruption with the Department of Veteran Affairs. In fact, it came three weeks after the White House tried blaming the Bush administration for the problem, too.

Just two days before the tip, the New York Times was reporting that VA execs were targeting whistleblowers. It’s pretty clear why, now.

The story sounds very similar to what the IG investigators found in Baltimore, too:

An employee at the Baltimore office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs inappropriately stored thousands of documents — including some that contained Social Security data — according to testimony from an inspector general to be made public on Monday.

About 8,000 documents, including claims folders, unprocessed mail and Social Security information of dead or incarcerated veterans were stored in an employee’s office for “an extensive period of time,” according to testimony from Linda A. Halliday, an assistant inspector general, that was reviewed by The Baltimore Sun. …

Halliday will tell lawmakers that agency officials alerted the inspector general in June that an employee in the Baltimore office incorrectly stored claims-related mail, printouts of Social Security data and “various documents containing personally-identifiable information.” A subsequent review ordered by management found an additional 1,500 sensitive documents inappropriately stored, she will say.

More cases of death from long waits and red tape are emerging, including this story about Coast Guard veteran Gene Broadwell. Broadwell couldn’t get appointments at the VA, couldn’t get a referral to a private-sector provider, and couldn’t get the VA’s patient advocate to do anything. What the Broadwells did get was $200,000 in medical bills for emergency-room treatments when the VA wouldn’t see Broadwell, and a lingering death for the veteran as the price of serving his country:

“Why do veterans have to beg for treatment?” Being trapped in a single-payer bureaucracy is what forced Broadwell to both wait and pay ruinous fees, and keeping veterans trapped while begging for referrals is what the so-called reforms proposed by Congress will still do.