In its investigation, CBS uncovered more the 14,000 cases of deliberately ignored claims at the Oakland, California facility, as well as five additional hospitals. Thanks in large part to U.S. Representative Doug LaMalfa (R-Oroville), the Office of the Inspector General began investigating the claims of frustrated veterans, spouses, and widows who waited years while desperately seeking assistance from the department.
In an investigation that proves to be yet another blow to the credibility of VA Secretary Bob McDonald, CBS News revealed shocking new details concerning the way the VA has continued to conduct business since the scandals that led to former Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation in May 2014.
In some cases, the widows of veterans were not even assisted with burial expenses or given the traditional American flag in honor of the veteran’s service.
According to CBS, in one example of the profound problems within the VA, Dorrie Stafford received a letter, dated July 29, 2014, thanking her husband Wayne for the disability claim he filed in 2004. The problem was Wayne died in 2011, without ever having heard from the administration. Dorrie has received no widow’s benefits to which she’s entitled and currently lives with friends in a home without electricity, the report said.
This all comes on the heels of a video of Secretary McDonald making a claim to a homeless veteran that his own military service was with Army Special Forces, a claim that proved to be factually inaccurate.
According to the Military Times:
“A 1975 West Point graduate, McDonald spent five years in the Army assigned primarily to the 82nd Airborne Division. He graduated jump school and Army Ranger training before leaving the service in 1980 at the rank of captain. But he never served in a Ranger unit or as part of any U.S. commando force.”
McDonald apologized for the inaccuracy of that statement, saying, “I incorrectly stated that I had been in special forces. That was inaccurate and I apologize to anyone that was offended by my misstatement. I have great respect for those who have served our nation in special forces.”
But this is the least of his problems.
The CBS investigation goes on to chronicle the efforts of five whistle-blowers from the Oakland facility, who discovered more than 13,000 claims dated from 1996 to 2009 that were simply ignored.
“Half of the veterans were dead that I screened. So almost every other piece of paper that I touched was a veteran who had already passed away,” Rustyann Brown said, upset by the alarming trend when she researched the backlog.
Half of the veterans were dead that I screened.Rustyann Brown, VA whistle-blower
The news not only comes from these whistle-blowers, but from the Office of Inspector General.
“According to the Office of Inspector General, a VA management team came to the office in 2012 to help sort out its problems and found about 14,000 informal claims — those requesting initial assistance — in a filing cabinet that had not been processed. Some were over 20 years old,” reports Doug Oakley of the Bay Area News Group.
However, this isn’t the worst of it. Investigators from the Office of Inspector General visited the site in July, nearly two years after the problems were first reported, and none of the records in question could be located. Investigators were only able to find a spread sheet with a list of old claims that had not been processed and noted that adequate records were not kept and that employees needed proper training.
This incident is just the most recent in a long series of events where the VA destroyed records in an effort to cover ineptitude and laziness.
In 2009, it was discovered that records, still sealed in the envelopes they were submitted in, were hidden or destroyed to cover up improper handling. In 2011, an investigation found that nearly a quarter of disability claims were processed incorrectly or wrongly denied in regional VA offices nationwide. The scandal in 2014 that garnered the attention of mainstream media outlets also uncovered that veterans were intentionally kept on long wait lists and thousands of records were destroyed in several VA clinics.
The continuing scandals and backlogs that plague the department have become such a problem that even former Governor Sarah Palin devoted a portion of her speech at the 2015 CPAC to it:
“America hands over her sons and her daughters with the promise that they’re going to be taken care of. We can’t wait for D.C. to fix their bureaucratic blunders. This bureaucracy is killing our vets. They wait for months, they wait for years to get treatment at the VA, and they’re losing hope.”
Palin voiced the sentiments of many of America’s veterans, and their families. The backlog and problems in the VA are literally killing veterans. There comes a time when the pettiness of bureaucrats squabbling over funding and titles must stop for the sake of human lives.
What actions will be taken in the wake of the investigation into these claims is currently unknown.