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April 15, 2015

Audit slams mismanagement, delays at Philadelphia VA regional office

Investigations Veterans Affairs
041515_VAPhila File/AP

This file photo from June 29, 2009 shows the Philadelphia Veterans Hospital.

A federal audit of the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs regional office uncovered substantial mismanagement and delays in the processing of disability and pension claims, according to a report released Wednesday.  

The audit, conducted by VA inspector general Richard Griffin, cites mishandled or neglected mail, manipulation of claim dates and late responses to more than 31,000 inquiries from veterans, widows and potential beneficiaries. On average, such inquires were pending for 312 days, despite a VA standard set at five days, the Philadelphia Business Journal reports. 

The 78-page report follows a 10-month investigation spurred by a nationwide review in the wake of reports of systemic issues at VA offices that began surfacing last summer. At the time, the exposure of delayed case management and hospital appointments led to the resignation of Eric Shinseki as Secretary of Veteran Affairs. 

Investigators found the Philadelphia regional office beset with ineffective leadership, confusing policies and workload issues that resulted in flagrant mishandling of mail and other records.  

When the Philadelphia staff failed to merge duplicate records, for example, investigators found that about $2.2 million improper benefits payments were made to 56 beneficiaries. 
“This is a sad day for Philadelphia," U.S. Rep. Brendan F. Boyle, a southeastern Pennsylvania Democrat, said in a statement. "It is unthinkable that this level of duplicity, mismanagement, and corruption happened at an agency whose first priority should have been to help our nation’s heroes. Instead they systemically lied, hid, and manipulated their employees to save their own skin. I hope we can learn from this incredible miscarriage of trust and justice so that it will never happen again.”
According to ABC News, a House Veterans Affairs Committee meeting is scheduled for next week to focus on the mishandling of claims in Philadelphia and Oakland, California. 

Allison Hickey, who leads the VA's benefits program, said that in the 10 months since whistleblower complaints began to surface, the agency has taken aggressive steps to fix the problems in Philadelphia, including budget requests to expand the office's claims processing staff. 

About 825,000 veterans in eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware are served by the Philadelphia Regional Office. The site administers veteran benefits and contains one of the nation's three Pension Management Centers. 

The report calls on the VA to determine responsibility and implement department-wide changes, which are expected to be developed and in force by the end of June.