Here’s the latest data point in what looks more and more like a series of management failures at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA): Sharp-eyed VA employees say the department is routinely issuing over-payments to some beneficiaries—and that it may be costing more than the VA is letting on.
The New York Times reports that for more than two years, VA employee Kristen Ruell and others have attempted to alert departmental officials to duplicate and inflated payments that are being made to some recipients of VA benefits. But supervisors have been non-responsive; one official quoted in the story tries to minimize the scope of the problem. The NYT reports:
But Ms. Ruell and several of her colleagues, who described the problem for a reporter because they felt the department was not addressing it, believe that the duplicate payments are far more common, and costly, than their leadership acknowledges.
They say that they see new cases weekly and that the problem also occurs at the department’s other pension centers in Milwaukee and St. Paul. They express frustration that the department seems unable to prevent the creation of new duplicate records that can lead to duplicate payments. And they say their superiors do not consistently try to recoup over payments — though the department denies that assertion.
“I’m just bothered the way money is wasted and no one cares,” said Ms. Ruell, 37, a lawyer who has worked at the pension center for five years.
Kudos to Ms. Ruell and her coworkers for shining a light on what at best is administrative sloppiness—and what at worst may be a very expensive abuse of taxpayer dollars due to a lack of competent oversight. It’s not always easy for government employees to stand up on these kind of issues, and thanks to their efforts, the department’s inspector general is launching a probe of the over-payments, and members of Congress are demanding a full accounting.
We’ve seen plenty of evidence of managerial dysfunction at the VA, from the “broken” system of veterans care to millions of dollars squandered on training conferences. Increasingly, the signs point to a department that is unable to gets its house in order. Our veterans are paying the price for those failures.
Why do these types of administrative failures matter? Because they undermine confidence in the system when some beneficiaries are receiving unearned additional benefits, while thousands of veterans and survivors are struggling to have their own benefits claims recognized and honored. With more and more military personnel separating from the service in the months to come as the troop drawdown in Afghanistan accelerates, it’s likely we’ll only see more worrisome stories of VA dysfunction.
Darin Selnick is an independent consultant and a member of the Concerned Veterans for America’s organizing committee.