Congressman Fitzpatrick calls for criminal investigation of Philly VA office

    U.S. Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick of Bucks County is calling for a criminal investigation into the Germantown-based Philadelphia Veterans Affairs office.

    Fitzpatrick wrote to the FBI, U.S. postal inspector and U.S. attorney general in Philadelphia requesting the investigation.

    The letter comes after allegations that staff members destroyed mail and manipulated claims information surfaced at a congressional hearing Monday.

    Philadelphia VA employee Kristen Ruell testified at the congressional hearing that staffers put new dates on old benefits claims to make a ballooning backlog appear smaller. 

    “The unreasonable and unattainable production requirements that start in Washington, D.C., that are placed on employees have required employees to  decide between what is right in  helping the veteran or what is wrong in order to keep their jobs,” Ruell testified.

    Citing testimony in his letter to authorities, Fitzpatrick wrote that employees received performance bonuses of more than $2,000 while improperly addressing veterans’ claims.

    In an ongoing investigation, the VA inspector general’s office said they found evidence of duplicate benefits payments at the Germantown office, and mail bins full of unprocessed claims from 2011.

    The investigators also received allegations that staff were shredding, destroying, and hiding mail and ignoring inquiries from veterans about pending claims. 

    VA investigators, in their fourth week at the Philadelphia office, say they will issue a report when the fact-finding is complete.

    In a statement, the VA said it is working to address the issues at the city office and has suspended the memo that was being misused to allow for the back-dating. It has directed an audit of the mail at all 56 of its regional offices to ensure proper control and storage. 

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