A top Veterans Affairs official said Monday that the Philadelphia VA office was the only one in the nation to “misinterpret” a memo from headquarters in 2013 that resulted in employees falsifying the dates on veterans’ benefit claims to make it appear the VA was handling claims in a timely fashion.
Allison Hickey, VA undersecretary for benefits, told reporters that she rescinded the order more than one year after it was issued out of concern “it could be misapplied that way” in other VA offices. She was responding to a scathing inspector general’s report that found workers in the Philadelphia office falsified dates on disability claims that were sometimes more than a year old, lost mail, doctored performance reviews and overpaid certain benefits.
She said the foul-up with the memo, known internally as “Fast Letter 13-10,” was limited to Philadelphia, one of the largest VA offices in the nation, serving more than 825,000 veterans and their families in three states. Ms. Hickey said the phony dates on claims didn’t have an appreciable impact on the overall claims backlog in the VA, affecting only about 3 percent of claims nationwide.
The IG report said the guidance from VA headquarters was flawed “by design” and that it rendered “unreliable” the agency’s reports about cutting into its claims backlog.
Ms. Hickey also placed some blame on Congress for the VA’s shortcomings, saying she has asked lawmakers since last year for the money to hire as many as 2,200 more employees.
“I am hoping that our Congress supports [the VA’s request] … to get to the full complement,” she said.