Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Congressional Panel Spotlights Waste, Inappropriate Use of VA Resources





Congressional Panel Spotlights Waste, Inappropriate Use of VA Resources

Washington, D.C. – On Wednesday, September 23, 2009, the House Veterans’ Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, led by Chairman Harry Mitchell (D-AZ), conducted a hearing to review protocols for administering bonuses for employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Subcommittee also reviewed hiring practices at VA, in response to two reports from the VA Inspector General (IG).

Recent reports issued by the IG focused on VA’s Office of Information and Technology (OI&T) and Assistant Inspector General for Investigations James J. O’Neill provided testimony on the findings, which included nepotism, misuse of position, prohibited personnel practices, improper funding of academic degrees, and improper administration of awards. The first report, Misuse of Position, states that $24 million in bonuses were given to OI&T officials. Mr. O’Neill testified: “OI&T senior managers recognized that there was an OI&T budgetary shortfall, but OI&T managers still spent over $24 million on awards and retention bonuses in a 2-year time period while working under a deficit…. We found four GS-15s who received about $60,000, $73,000, $58,000, and $59,000, respectively, over a 2-year period, with some personnel files containing insufficient or questionable justification.“

The second report, Nepotism, addresses hiring practices. Mr. O’Neill testified that the actions of a former VA official “were not limited to the hiring of the family members but also included hiring friends, involving herself in a change of work schedule for her relative, checking on the status of a cash award for the family member, and authorizing expenditures for graduate courses for family member.”

“Our veterans need to be ensured that the bonus system is being utilized in an appropriate manner and hiring practices within the VA conducted properly,” said Chairman Mitchell. “These IG reports, however, accurately show what can happen when the proper procedures go unchecked. I am grateful that the VA Office of Inspector General has agreed to come here today to talk about their reports and give testimony into the correct hiring procedures and protocols the VA should utilize.”

Representatives from VA testified that new VA leadership has implemented new oversight practices to ensure that VA senior executives who are awarded performance awards have shown demonstrable achievement and performance. A new policy has been implemented that requires the VA’s Deputy Secretary and Chief of Staff to verify each award before the Secretary awards final approval. Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould discussed a 2007 review performed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine VA’s performance management system. The review yielded recommendations for improvements and established the need for additional consideration of the performance evaluation process.

Deputy Secretary Gould said, “We have fully implemented all of the recommendations, confirmed that the additional three elements are included in our process and made our own internal modifications. As a result of the significant improvements to our system, OPM and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have granted full certification of our performance management system…. We are committed to continuously improving our senior executive management and further strengthening the linkage between senior executive performance and VA strategic goals and operating plans.”

“It is clear that under past leadership at the VA, there was a lack of oversight that led to employee abuse of VA resources,” said Bob Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “The good news is that there is a safety valve in place and inappropriate actions have been thoroughly reviewed by the VA’s Inspector General. New leadership at the VA publicly repudiated these actions, has undertaken stronger oversight measures, and shown us a positive way ahead to transforming VA into a department that delivers for our veterans.”

Witness List

Panel 1:

· James J. O’Neill, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Accompanied by:

o Joseph G. Sullivan, Jr., Deputy Inspector General for Investigations, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

o Michael R. Bennett, Attorney Advisor, Office of Investigations, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Panel 2:

· Honorable W. Scott Gould, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Accompanied by:

o John R. Gingrich, Chief of Staff, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

o Honorable John U. Sepulveda, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

o Willie L. Hensley, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs


Prepared testimony for the hearing and a link to the webcast from the hearing is available on the internet at this link: Link to hearing .

Sphere: Related Content

Report: Too many vets wait a year for claim

VA OIG Report

Report: Too many vets wait a year for claim

By KIMBERLY HEFLING, Associated Press Writer Kimberly Hefling, Associated Press Writer – Wed Sep 23, 4:10 pm ET
WASHINGTON – Too many veterans' disability claims take more than a year to process, the Veterans Affairs Department's inspector general said Wednesday.

An audit released by the VA showed that a year ago, 11,000 veterans had claims pending more than a year. It says the agency awarded retroactive payments totaling about $43 million for about a third of them. Of that total, it says about $14 million was unnecessarily delayed because of deficient claims processing.

Among the worst cases, one veteran was owed nearly $65,000 for a delayed claim, and another veteran waited more than two years for payment, the IG said.

"These delayed benefit payments have the potential to adversely affect the economic status and quality of life for veterans who are eligible for benefits," the IG said.

The report said the VA has made progress in reducing lingering claims, but it's still creating too much of a financial burden for veterans. The VA has hired more claims processors but is struggling with a growing number of claims approaching one million as more veterans file claims who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

It recommended changes such as improving its workload management.

The VA agreed with most of the IG findings and recommendations, the IG said.


On the Net: IG audit on veterans claims: http://www.va.gov/oig/52/reports/2009/VAOIG-08-03156-227.pdf


While this article addresses the fact that most veterans wait up to one year for their claims to be decided, it does not get into the fact that most claims are not settled at any reasonable limit and that most of the veterans are then forced to file a "Notice of Disgreement" otherwise known as a "NOD" and then the appeals process can take up to another year for a a Decision Review Officer to either make a award decision or another denial, which then the veterans then files an appeal to the Board of veteran Appeals, which this can lead from a 12-24 month wait, now add all of these waiting times up and you can have the average veteran and their families waiting up to five years before they can get a BVA Judge to make a decision which in my experience is where the veterangets a fair shake and the Judge allows the evidence that the local VA regional Office has been ignoring to be heard, he also looks at the medical credentials of the VA doctors that have been rendering "specialists opinions, when the personnel making the VA exams are sometimes no more than Nurse Practitioners, or regular MDs, or radiologists" who then have the audacity to make "cardiac opinions as specialists" and the Judge will look at the states medical office's listings as to their credentials, versus the credentials of the specialists the veterans have hired that are board certified in their specialties and have the experience to make an Independent Medical Opinion (IMO) and things that have been able to slide under the radar in the Regional Office, gets seen by a BVA Judge that takes all of this into account, and then calls it "the benefit of doubt" and awards the claim back to date the claim was filed five years previously.

While the veteran and their family finally gets the benefits they are entitled to or the "PROMISE" as military members are told when they enlist, what no one told them that they would have to go to war with the VA to make them keep the PROMISE. They are not told they can not get a lawyer until after they are denied by the Regional Office and still many are told by Veterans Service Organizations that they will represent them for free yes they do, they also are only as good as the training they have, which in my past 7 years has been less than fulfilling, I am glad the rules were changed in July 2007 allowing veterans to hire attornies after the first denial, there are a group of well educated lawyers that handle Veterans Claims and I will recommend them to any veteran, to have quality representation as soon as possible can cut short the time it takes for the claim to be settled properly and paying them 20% of your award is better than waiting 5-7 years to either still be denied or lowballed or to even get the proper award, 20% of something is better than a 100% of all of nothing. http://www.vetadvocates.com/ NOVA NOVA MEMBERSHIP DIRECTORY you can go there and select any lawyer on their list they meet several times a year and they all can call each other when ever they run into an issue they need help with, I fully recommend them to all veterans.

Sphere: Related Content