A day after a scathing report about the administration’s continued failure in serving veterans, President Obama told a group of wounded warriors Thursday that he will do “everything in my power” to provide benefits to veterans.
“We’ve got your back,” Mr. Obama told veterans at the White House. “As commander in chief, I’m going to keep doing everything in my power to make sure we serve you as well as you serve us.”
The president and Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald greeted a contingent of veterans participating in the eighth annual Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride, a cycling event to raise money and awareness of veterans’ needs.
The veterans started their 60-mile ride by cycling laps around the driveway of the South Lawn at the White House, with Mr. Obama giving them high-fives as they rode past.
The event came a day after a report by the VA inspector general showed that the agency’s Philadelphia office falsified dates on claims for veterans’ disability payments to make it appear they were being served faster than they actually were. Many of the claims were more than a year old without having any action taken on them.
The inspector general said veterans’ services were likely delayed or even denied as a result of “flawed” guidance from VA headquarters in Washington in 2013, as the agency was struggling to address a backlog of hundreds of thousands of claims for benefits.
While he didn’t address the report directly, Mr. Obama told the veterans Thursday that he is committed to “getting you the care and benefits that you deserve and have earned.”
One of the officials most responsible for the failings in the Philadelphia VA office is being promoted to a high-paying job in the department’s Washington headquarters. Gary Hodge, the office’s pension manager, will begin an assignment next week as assistant director of the Pension and Fiduciary Service in Washington.
The inspector general’s report found that Mr. Hodge’s office and other officials in Philadelphia cooked the books to understate the amount of time veterans waited for pensions and disability benefits, with managers repeatedly ordering employees to change the dates on backlogged complaints.
In spite of mismanagement in Philadelphia and the scandal last year on phony waiting lists at VA hospitals, the agency has fired few managers who were responsible for the problems.
The report found that more than 31,000 benefits claims were pending an average of 312 days instead of the standard of five, because they were “mismanaged” at various levels.
The inspector general also found 6,400 pieces of military mail that workers said were “unidentifiable,” but which investigators said could easily be matched to veterans. One employee hid bins of mail rather than process the claims, and some mail from veterans sat unopened for three years.
Also, workers approved about $2.2 million in improper payments because they failed to account for duplicate records. The report also found that 60 percent of veterans’ reviews of the quality of service they receive were doctored.