Friday, February 12, 2010

Veterans and "Shreddergate" destruction of compensation claims

Veterans and "Shreddergate" destruction of compensation claims

Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 12:01:29 AM EST
In the latest disclosure of "SHREDDER GATE" which disabled veterans have been screaming about for years, and was just "discovered" last year when a Detroit VARO employee blew the whistle.

Larry Scott of VA (links to all articles about shreddergate) has en extensive online library of news stories related to this mess. I was reading his newest article and a few things caught my attention. Like the possibility the VA was destroying more than one million documents a year (in one office) they have 57 offices around the world. It hasn't been proven that destruction has happened at every office, just most of them.

But reading the Office Inspector General Report (OIG) I ran across a sentence that "shocked me" and that isn't easy to do any more, after fighting these bastards for the past decade before having a Judge make them service connect my cardiovascular disease, nothing they can do bother me, but this did.

The VA has been telling veterans and Congress that it takes 3-4 years to train a Veterans Service Representative in how to properly rate a compensation claim. Given the complexity of all the medical conditions, and medical evidence and statements from doctors and veterans medical records, and court martials, military police statements, civilain police statements and any and every other kind of evidence that can be used to validate a claim.

A 42-page document containing interviews by VAOIG's Criminal Investigations Division (CID) with VARO employees ... available for viewing or download here. This document makes the best reading. We have some employees spilling the beans, others confused and some playing Sgt. Schultz: "I know nothing." You will find numerous statements by many New York VARO employees that "recycle bins" were used to discard unopened mail, which was shredded and numerous incidents where huge piles of unopened mail just "disappeared" overnight or over weekends. And, you'll find the testimony of a VBA employee who says they were told to shred mail, but do it a little at a time so as not to garner attention ... and, that the worst thing that could happen is that some veterans might have to re-file documents.

OIG Interviews this is the document that Larry says is the best reading, the paragraph that got my attention is on page 3.........

It just makes me ask a few more questions that are not answered anywhere

if this one office has a 91% new employees of less than 2 years, how many more offices are similar?
Since it is supposed to take 3-4 years to train a representative, who are the experienced workers doing the claims decisions?
Why did 91% of the employees quit or leave or were they fired?
My claim has ten years of experience laying around the local VARO and in the BVA office in Washington DC, does it have all new employees working on it and is that why it took so long?
Are they going to improve the retention rate of employees so veterans can get their claims handled properly in the future, or keep giving bonuses to the VARO officials to keep firing or chasing off experienced employees, so the veterans can't get benefits they are due?
I am sure other veterans can think of their own questions below, of and why isn't the visible media cable news, broadcast news, newspapers or anyone else reporting this stuff?

Original article on shreddergate

Shredding Our Trust in the VA

VA investigators find entire claims and other critical documents in shredding bins at Detroit Regional Office. VA official will only say, "I can't talk about that."

by Larry Scott

Many veterans who have filed disability claims with the Veterans’ Benefits Administration (VBA) of the Department of Veterans’ Affair (VA) will relate horror stories of misdated, misfiled or lost documents all leading to delays in processing or an outright denial of the claim. The mantra for veterans dealing with the VBA has become: "Delay, Deny and Hope that I Die."

It has been assumed by many veterans, their Service Officers who help file claims and attorneys who specialize in veterans’ law that the VBA operates in such a way as to deliberately stall or hinder the claim process with the goal of frustrating the veteran to the point where they just forget about the claim and go away. This isn't some grand plan to purposely hurt veterans, but rather a combination of ignorance, arrogance, incredibly bad management and non-existent oversight. While this viewpoint has been labeled cynical by some and outright paranoid by others, new information is surfacing that shows the cynics, and even the paranoids, to be correct.

What We Know

The VA’s Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) has been conducting audits, or investigations, of a number of VA Regional Offices (VAROs). There are over 50 VAROs around the country, each set up to handle the claims of veterans in a particular geographical area.

The latest series of VAOIG investigations centers on charges that VARO administrators and employees deliberately falsified "timeliness" statistics sent to the VA’s Central Office (VACO). This would be information that shows when a claim was received and how, with a documented timeline including date/time stamps, it moved through the process.

The first heads have begun to roll in this investigation. During the week of October 6, 2008, four employees at the New York VARO, including the Director, were placed on administrative leave. More accurately, they were removed from their positions awaiting the outcome of the investigation. Sources close to this investigation say that those removed, and others, were found to have been fudging the "timeliness" figures. And, there are allegations that documents, including paperwork essential to the claim process had been destroyed.

Another VARO under investigation is Detroit. On September 5, 2008, VARO employees were called to a meeting with the main topic being their poor performance levels. They were told that the Director had been called to Washington to answer questions regarding the poor performance.

At that meeting, VARO officials announced an "amnesty period" for anyone who had old claims at their desk or stashed in other places around the office, a direct procedural violation. Employees were told to turn in paperwork so they could try to get the "timeliness" numbers up. Officials also stated that a VAOIG team would be coming shortly to inspect the VARO and urged all employees "to be prepared."

By mid-September the VAOIG team had arrived at the Detroit VARO. What they found staggers the imagination. VAOIG discovered hundreds of claims, documents critical to claims and other valuable information in the shredder bins. Those bins were removed from the shredder area and the documents were screened by upper management.

It is unclear if the VAOIG team actually "seized" any of the documents in the shredder bins. What we do know is that after the VAOIG investigators left the Detroit VARO, management continued to find more critical documents in shredder bins. A meeting was called and the Director told employees that it was known who had thrown out the documents and that they would be fired. The "amnesty period" for turning in mail kept at employee’s desks was extended in the hope of turning up all "lost" claim documentation.

On October 2, 2008, the Detroit VARO Director began a "no record mail" program. This was meant to find all mail in the offices for which there, literally, was no record. Quoting from an employee directly involved in this process: "...discovered in the thousands of pieces of ‘no record mail’ we found original applications, medical evidence for veterans’ claims that had not been included in the decisions, informal claims (that likely could affect original dates of claims), and other relevant identifiable mail items."

On October 7, 2008, quoting again from the VA employee, "...the Director, Service Center Manager and other top management ransacked our work areas in search of mail that was being stored/stashed at individual’s desks. They sent some individuals home, and the others were told to wait in the break room until the end of their shift. I can’t attest to what they found in the work areas, but individuals were pulled aside and questioned."

Then, on October 9, 2008, quoting again, "During a training session the Director...stated that other regional offices have already placed numerous supervisors on administrative leave in regards to ‘cheating’ on their numbers, and that with as poor as our station numbers [are] least we aren’t cheating on our numbers, or at least not cheating well."

So, what is being done in the Detroit VARO to put an end to this mess? Not much. The VA employee adds with a noticeable sadness, "...They don’t seem to have any answers yet. They have juggled the supervisory staff around to different departments for some reason, and have been telling us to stand by for further training on our job functions. There are still items of mail at my desk currently that I have been told to hold on station since they don’t know the disposition of these types of mail yet [and]...they keep finding new piles of mail that date back to March of 2008 [and further] that’s had no action taken on it."

What We Don’t Know

At this time, we don’t know how many VAROs have been caught up in this investigation or if the VAOIG teams just went out to "sample" some VAROs and hit pay dirt in New York and Detroit.

We also don’t know what VACO is going to do about this. A highly-placed VACO official, when told that this information was going public, gulped, paused, and said, "I can’t talk about that." And, one of the VAOIG investigators who was at the Detroit VARO will not return phone calls on this matter.

The worst part is, we don’t know if any documents were actually shredded. By its very nature, shredding would eliminate the evidence of what was shredded. We may never know unless a VA employee comes forward and says that they did it or saw it done.

CYA Time

We will have to wait for the VAOIG reports before we can get a handle on how widespread this problem of "timeliness" is. Is this happening at all 50+ VAROs? A number of former VA employees have said that they believe the "timeliness" issue exists in all VAROs. They are of the opinion that there is widespread abuse of documents as they come in to the VARO. No one felt that any VARO Director would actually tell employees to hide or destroy documents, but the general feeling is that this is "winked at" and a standard way of handling the paperwork crunch at the VAROs.

Several former VA employees have postulated about how the VAOIG reports will turn out. They feel that the VA will claim that any hiding or destruction of documents was done at the lowest possible level and without the consent or knowledge of anyone above that person’s grade, then make promises that it will never happen again. A former VA attorney decided that it is impossible for such "widespread abuse to occur" without knowledge of its existence at all levels of the VARO.

We can expect statements of outrage from VA Secretary James Peake. We can expect hearings from the politicians on Capitol Hill. But, what will this really accomplish? Will any of this change the way the VAROs operate? Don’t count on it.

I have not posted the entire article and Larry has let me post entire articles in the past, most regular Kos readers know that I have been posting VA watchdog articles for nearly 5 years now...... just to remind people what shreddergate is about....

Veterans Administration and "shreddergate"

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