Ranking Member Blumenthal urges DOJ to immediately investigate misconduct at VA identified in OIG Report

Recent report identified VA executives mismanaging Permanent Change of Station policies for personal benefit, adding to list of unethical misconduct within VA.

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, urged the Department of Justice (DOJ) to immediately investigate unethical behavior by Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees identified in a VA Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) report released last month. In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Blumenthal noted that this is another example in a growing list of misconduct at VA, and the DOJ must take action to stop any ongoing and future misuse of funds that should be going to the nation’s veterans.

According to the [VAOIG] report, the Veterans Benefit Administration spent about $1.8 million for 23 relocations during the past three years – and according to the report, these relocations were used “as a means to justify annual salary increases” for the senior executives, who sought to create positions as a way to exempt themselves from the salary freeze in effect at VA. Veterans deserve the accountability that can only come from DOJ acting upon the evidence and information it has now received,” wrote Ranking Member Blumenthal.

This scheme to defraud taxpayers and manipulate the system is, unfortunately, only the latest example of unacceptable misconduct by VA employees. This behavior is unacceptable for any federal employee, but it is particularly egregious in this case because it evinces a mindset that puts veterans last.

“…I ask that DOJ work more closely with the VAOIG to ensure that its evidence-gathering aligns with your requirements and that you put special emphasis on investigating the possibility of prosecution of cases stemming from these reports. DOJ has an essential role to play in helping to hold any bad actors fully accountable across VA.

Full text of the letter is below:

Dear Attorney General ‎Lynch,

I urge the Department of Justice (DOJ) to immediately investigate potential violations of law and other wrongdoing raised in a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) report released on September 28, 2015. The report describes shockingly unethical actions over years by VA Senior Executive employees who misused the Permanent Change of Station (PCS) benefits policies and abused their positions of authority for personal benefit. According to the report, the Veterans Benefit Administration  spent about $1.8 million for 23 relocations during the past three years – and according to the report, these relocations were used “as a means to justify annual salary increases” for the senior executives, who sought to create positions as a way to exempt themselves from the salary freeze in effect at VA. Veterans deserve the accountability that can only come from DOJ acting upon the evidence and information it has now received.

This scheme to defraud taxpayers and manipulate the system is, unfortunately, only the latest example of unacceptable misconduct by VA employees. This behavior is unacceptable for any federal employee, but it is particularly egregious in this case because it evinces a mindset that puts veterans last. The very same mindset led over the last two years to VA employees manipulating wait time data for medical appointments, in order to receive employee bonus payments. I have previously written to you to act on the growing number of cases referred for prosecution from that investigation, and I ask now that you update me on progress in this regard.

Although VAOIG has found evidence indicating criminal activity in a number of their recent investigations, federal prosecutors have declined to pursue the vast majority of cases. ‎ As of June 30, 2015, this included 43 of the 55 investigations that VAOIG sent to DOJ related to the manipulation of wait time data for medical appointments. To the extent that these decisions have resulted from insufficient evidence of criminal intent in cases where your office believes such intent might have existed but evidentiary standards were not met, I ask that DOJ work more closely with the VAOIG to ensure that its evidence-gathering aligns with your requirements and that you put special emphasis on investigating the possibility of prosecution of cases stemming from these reports. DOJ has an essential role to play in helping to hold any bad actors fully accountable across VA. Whether through providing guidance to VAOIG, issuing special instructions to United States Attorneys’ offices, or taking other steps, I encourage you to fully and expeditiously pursue potential theories of liability in these and similar cases.

Thank you for your attention to these requests.

Sincerely,

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Press Contact

Contact: Josh Zembik (DC) - (202) 224-6452

Josh_Zembik@blumenthal.senate.gov