A new audit of the Philadelphia Veteran’s Administration benefits office has confirmed many allegations of mismanagement that led to errors or extreme wait times for vets.
More than 31,000 pension inquiries, for example, averaged 10 months for a reply. The VA standard is supposed to be just five days. In other instances, claim dates were fudged. And one employee, now terminated, hid four bins of unprocessed mail.
“It was an incredible betrayal of our veterans,” said retired Navy officer Joe Eastman of the report’s findings.
Eastman is now a community liaison officer with the Veterans Group in West Philadelphia. While he personally has not had problems with the benefits office, he said the attitudes he has encountered while helping others point to a larger cultural problem.
“Many of us are still having conversations about things we dealt with five years ago, and we’re not seeing any decrease in the number of vets we’re working with,” he said. “So that kind of tells you something right there.”
The VA began an inquiry into the Philadelphia regional office 10 months ago, after receiving a disturbing number of tips about mismanagement and poor working conditions. The office provides pension, employment, and vocational rehabilitation services to approximately 825,000 vets in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
Among other findings, VA staff neglected to merge duplicate records, leading to more than $2.2 million of extra payments.
The review did not find evidence to support allegations that officials removed boxes of old claims prior to a visit by members of Congress, nor the claim that staff processed appeal claims out of order by “cherry-picking” the easy cases.
Pennsylvania Representative Pat Meehan called the report “scathing,” but disagreed with the recommendations for more investigation.
“I’m looking for some point in time where there’s accountability,” he said, “and that there’s people held responsible for this shockingly poor performance.”
In a statement, the Philadelphia office said it has already fixed a majority of the issues highlighted in the report, and is working to resolve the rest.