And some of them never lived to see their rightful benefits from service to our nation. The VA in Oakland, California routinely ignored the query letters from veterans seeking various benefits, despite regulations requiring a response. When the issue came to the attention of VA leadership in 2012, they assigned a team to go through the records — and then deep-sixed those records when it became obvious that something very wrong had taken place. In fact, as one whistleblower tells CBS News, the cover-up lasted until “a few months ago,” cheating thousands of veterans:
But whether the veteran was dead or still alive, brown said VA supervisors in Oakland ordered her team to mark the claims “no action necessary” and to toss them aside. Whistleblowers said that was illegal.
“The VA didn’t help them. The VA didn’t care about them. They took them, they put them in a file, and they stuffed them away,” Brown said.
There were 13,184 veterans who were, Brown said, “begging for help.”
When she raised her concerns, she said she was taken off the project. Then, this past summer, Brown and former VA employee Tony Silviero found a cart full of these same claims, ignored, yet again.
“We pulled 15 indiscriminately to look at; just 15,” Brown said. “Eight of them were owed money. One was owed $36,000.”
She said that was just a few months ago.
“A few months ago” suggests that this took place after the discovery of the falsified wait lists at VA hospitals. That scandal began in one facility in Phoenix, but turned out to have been common throughout the VA’s medical system. CBS notes that a recent Inspector General report suggests the same for this as well:
Lost claims and missing records are a problem nationwide. In the last year, the inspector general has found serious issues in at least six VA benefits offices, including unprocessed claims documents in Philadelphia, 9,500 records sitting on employees’ desks in Baltimore and computer manipulation in Houston to make claims look completed when they were not.
Like the wait-list scandal, this goes beyond bureaucratic incompetence and falls squarely into fraud. Rather than admit their deficiencies, the VA simply threw out evidence of it, and then made sure its employees understood the consequences of asking too many questions. Like the wait-list scandal, this shows how insular and unaccountable bureaucracies make their own survival their primary mission, at the expense of those whom the bureaucracy is intended to serve. This case shows how stubborn that self-absorption gets — even while the wait-list scandal was blowing up, this fraud continued to take place.
Unlike the wait-list scandal, there may not be a ready alternative. Congress can and should end the monopoly on health coverage for veterans at the VA by setting up a health-insurance exchange similar to Medicare Advantage, so that veterans can choose a wide range of providers for their care. For veteran benefits, though, there aren’t other options. The federal government is the sole provider of those benefits; there are no free-market alternatives. Perhaps Robert McDonald, already under fire for embellishing his service record, can provide Congress with more information on how this one got past everyone even while McDonald was supposedly cleaning up the VA. He can tell even more fables about how many people he’s fired, and when he does, Congress can recommend that Barack Obama fire one more.