Philadelphia VA office investigated over disability claims

AP News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2015 7:06 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has launched an investigation into allegations of widespread mismanagement of disability claims at its Philadelphia office as it braces for a report from its inspector general.

The high-level administrative investigation board review began this week at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Regional Office, aimed at determining whether problems represent isolated or broader issues, according to an email from Philadelphia director Diana Rubens to agency staff on Tuesday and obtained by The Associated Press.

The internal review is expected to be completed by June, the department said when asked to comment on Tuesday.

It comes as the VA's acting inspector general plans to release a report early next month on its months-long investigation into the Philadelphia regional office, where numerous whistleblowers have complained of routine mishandling and manipulation of dates to make old claims look new amid a rapidly growing backlog.

In a draft of the report, the IG makes 35 recommendations including having a leadership review so officials and employees are held accountable and fully comply with agency practices, according to excerpts given to the AP.

A spokeswoman for acting Inspector General Richard Griffin said the IG's office was aware Veterans Affairs had initiated the probe in response to the issues raised by Griffin in his coming report on the Philadelphia office.

In testimony before House lawmakers last week, Griffin made clear that he believed the problems at the Philadelphia office were widespread, with his office's checklist of potential problem areas becoming longer each time investigators visited. Since the IG began its review last June following whistleblower complaints, other VA facilities have been found to have similar problems, but Griffin suggested the issues in Philadelphia were particularly stark.

"As far as it might compare to other facilities, it's very bad," he told lawmakers.

The Philadelphia regional office oversees the administration of benefits to 825,000 veterans in eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware. The site also houses a Pension Management Center that services more than a dozen states and Puerto Rico.

Republican Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, which held a hearing on the issue last July, said it's important for the VA to investigate what went wrong at the Philadelphia office "and determine who is responsible so policies can be fixed and VA employees can be held accountable."

The internal VA investigation was first reported by The Washington Times.

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