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Va Nyro 20,000 Pieces Of Mail Never Opened.


allan
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  • HadIt.com Elder

VA NYRO 20,000 pieces of mail never opened.

Can this issue get any bigger/worse with VA destroying evidence, not properly time stamping evidence or just throwing it away? The answer is YES IT CAN.

VA Watch dog latest link at: http://www.vawatchdog.org/08/nf08/nfoct08/nf102708-1.htm

On October 22, 2008, the New York State Division of Veterans' Affairs held a Counselor Refresher Training Seminar at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, NY. Early in the meeting a New York VARO representative, who gave his name as John B., said problems found by VAOIG were improper entry dates on documents and improper procedures. John B. stated 20,000 pieces of mail were not opened and paperwork files were not collated or properly attended to. Apparently, this had been going on for some time.

Now I would think the Postal Service would get involved in this just like they did with the Atlanta Regional Office tag team of VA workers and a congressional liaison collaborated stealing millions of funds from the Widows and Orphan funds. VA did not prosecute these folks nor did the federal prosecutors prosecute on racketeering charges (RICO), which certainly fit the bill. Instead, the only way these folks went to prison was they got them on mail fraud.

Cannot wait to see what congress is going to do and how the VA upper management will lie through their teeth that this did not impact claims service and had nothing to do with 56% of the decisions at local VA being overturned at BVA. How when you get to the BVA claim evidence that would have validated the claim is not there. Then BVA mandates that the Veteran supply it to them at the DC appeals management center where the claim has been remanded and then another two years are lost waiting for the Veteran to die or the Widow to just give up. When had the data been there to begin with the BVA could have ruled on the spot.

Of course this will have not had any impact on Veterans or Widows claims at all and they will correct the problem with some pie and sky VA procedure that will not be verified and the same criminal activity will continue just as it is now and decades before.

Congress must mandate that any claim that is similar denied by VARO and then approved by BVA must be the standard for approval at VARO.

An example; as applying for disorder X associated to herbicides in Vietnam during military service approved by BVA after reviewing the medical data and any significant data finds for the Veteran and overrules VARO. VARO shall approve all such similar claims immediately with no question should be the philosophy. Not stall and deny by VARO on claims that have meet the proof of the claim at BVA. This makes no sense as in common or legal precedence. White House budget control is the only answer for not doing this.

You cannot have this many Veterans/Widows being burned by VARO’s for years or even decades without there being smoke at VA Regional Offices. Congress should believe in common sense; not VA management testimony that goes unchallenged.

Then lets not forget the trail of fraud left by VA workers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~`Separate article

ASSOCIATED PRESS ATLANTA, Aug. 29, 2001

Three current and former workers for the Department of Veterans Affairs have been charged in a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme. Authorities said Wednesday the three used the records of dead veterans to generate more than 200 fraudulent payments worth nearly $6 million dollars.

THE WORKERS allegedly spent most of the money on travel, homes and cars. But prosecutors said one of the defendants bought a helicopter and a small submarine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara Nelan said the government had recovered only about a tenth of the illicit funds. She called it “chump change compared to what was stolen.”

Sarah Prater of Atlanta, Ernest L. Thornton of Hiram and Kathy F. Eselhorst of Lilburn appeared Tuesday before Federal Magistrate Judge Joel Feldman. They were freed on $50,000 bond.

COOPERATING WITH POLICE

The three have cooperated with authorities and told investigators they spent most of the money on travel, homes and cars, records show. One defendant bought a helicopter, an Ultralight airplane, a hovercraft and a three-person submarine.

According to the federal criminal complaint filed, Prater, 60, worked as a supervisor and Congressional liaison at the agency¹s Atlanta regional office.

She is accused of using her security clearance to alter the records of at least 20 dead veterans with no beneficiaries, changing the status to “living” and the name to Ernest Thornton. By entering a retroactive disability claim, she allegedly generated large payments to Thornton, a Navy veteran and former Veterans Affairs clerk.

Authorities say they identified 246 fraudulent payments totaling $5.9 million made to Thornton between July 1996 and August 2001. Thorton and Eselhorst, also a former Veterans Affairs employee, allegedly opened numerous post office boxes to receive the payments.

Don Samuel, Eselhorst¹s attorney, declined to comment.

SUSPICIONS RAISED

Officials became suspicious earlier this month when two Veterans Affairs benefit payments totaling more than $200,000 were deposited in Thornton¹s account with the Navy Federal Credit Union.

Both payments were retroactive disability benefits payable to Thornton, but each had a different Veterans Affairs claim number and a different Social Security number.

Investigators in Atlanta searched the agency¹s records and found 20 active claim files in Thornton’s name.

Steve Westerfeld, a Veteran Affairs spokesman, said he didn¹t know of any other cases in which deceased veterans¹ files were used to defraud the agency.

“We’re certainly concerned about any employee who would take advantage of their position and violate their sacred trust as a government official,” Westerfeld said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~`Separate article

ST. PETERSBURG

Auditors have uncovered 136 cases of potential fraud or mishandling in the distribution of veterans benefit checks from offices in St. Petersburg and St. Louis, including the approval of $475,000 for a veteran who may have died 21 years ago.

(2)embezzled nearly $1.3-million by "exploiting internal weaknesses" in the benefit program.

A team of five VA auditors worked in the St. Petersburg office during the yearlong review of more than 1,000 questionable files. Their review also took them to a VA records center in St. Louis. Among their findings:

Overpayments totaling $475,000 went to a veteran who auditors believe died in 1979. It was not clear from the record whether a veteran was dead or alive, they wrote.

An additional $92,000 went to four more veterans thought dead at the time of payment.

143 employees received benefits themselves, and sometimes had improper access to their own records, increasing the potential for fraud.

A review of 308 claim folders of regional office employees, former employees and relatives found that 41 percent contained claims that were decided by co-workers. Two decisions were "unsupported and unwarranted," six were "very liberal" and two were processed within five days, though it normally takes months.

Controls to prevent employees from gaining access to the records of relatives and friends were inadequate.

In three of every four cases where "third-person review" was required for approval of one-time payments, it was not obtained.

In January 1999 St. Petersburg VA claims investigator Joy Cheri Brown was arrested for stealing $615,451 by creating a fraudulent award in the name of her fiance. That man, a Persian Gulf War veteran and St. Petersburg police officer, was not charged with wrongdoing. Brown forfeited a Mazda Miata, a Mitsubishi 3000 GT and two engagement rings, a prosecutor said at the time of her conviction. And conspired with another employee, Hack Carr, a 29-year employee, to increase her own disability compensation. Carr, a senior claims examiner, was charged with conspiracy, theft, and obstruction of agency proceedings and destruction of public records.

St. Petersburg office had more than 20,000 claims pending, the most in the nation, and it took an average of 213 days to complete claims.

~~~~~~~~~~~~`Separate article

Two weeks ago, The American Legion’s Quality Review Team visited the St. Petersburg VA Regional Office. While there, we were confronted with graphic evidence of premature and erroneous denials of claims, a general lack of compliance with the Veterans’ Claims Assistance Act (VCAA) rules, and other types of inappropriate action. It almost appears as part of an orchestrated policy of manipulation of the station’s production figures as a means of meeting its mandated production quotas. Management, rating board members, decision review officers, and front-line claims processors are under tremendous pressure from VA Central Office to produce the expected monthly quotas. There were cases in which veterans received letters stating that their claims were being denied, because their military records may have been destroyed in the 1972 fire at the National Personnel Records Center. The problem was that these veterans got out of the service years after the fire took place.

As disturbing as these tactics are, what was even more shocking was the intentional neglect of the backlog of pending appeals and remanded cases from the Board of Veterans Appeals. Remands are not being worked, because the station receives no work credit toward their mandated monthly production quota. This is not a local issue. It is a national issue.

At St. Petersburg, there were over 1,300 remands in which The American Legion holds power of attorney. Some of these cases had been remanded by the Board more than five years ago and were still waiting final regional office action.

~~~~~~~~~~~~`Separate article

STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE RICHARD J. GRIFFIN

INSPECTOR GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

BEFORE THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

COMMITTEE ON VETERANS AFFAIRS

SUBCOMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND INVESTIGATIONS

HEARING ON FRAUD AND MISMANAGEMENT IN VA

SEPTEMBER 23, 1999

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, today I will present to you the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) views on fraud and mismanagement in selected Veterans Affairs (VA) programs and summaries of the OIG audits and investigations in those areas. I will focus on veterans benefits, debt management, and procurement and contracting activities.

<H1 style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt">Veterans Benefits </H1>One of three principal missions assigned to my office by the Inspector General Act of 1978 is the duty to provide leadership in efforts to prevent and detect fraud and abuse in VA programs and operations. Recently, the Under Secretary for Benefits asked us to evaluate vulnerabilities in the Compensation and Pension (C&P) program that might facilitate fraud or abuse, particularly fraud committed by VA employees.

The request came about after two successful criminal investigations of thefts from the C&P program totaling over $1.2 million. Two Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) claims examination employees, at separate VBA Regional Offices, each embezzled over $600,000 in unconnected schemes. A brief description of each follows.

In April 1998, a man was arrested in New Jersey on drug possession charges. The arresting officers found a fictitious identification card on his person and records relating to a savings account in the name shown on the identification card. Our joint investigation led to the discovery that fraudulent VA disability compensation benefits were paid into the savings account monthly since August 1986. At the time the fraud was discovered, the payments were made at the rate of $5,011 monthly, the maximum VA compensation rate.

The man arrested turned out to be a former VA employee who had worked as a disability rating specialist at VBA’s New York Regional Office from January 1986 to May 1987. The former employee was ultimately convicted of having fraudulently received VA compensation benefits to which he was not entitled. The scheme was perpetrated using another person’s Social Security Number (SSN). The name and date of birth used were not those of the person whose SSN was used. Therefore, even though technology offers the opportunity and ability to verify entitlement by computer matching VA claim records with Department of Defense (DoD) and Social Security Administration (SSA) records, a totally fictitious identity was successfully used to perpetrate a fraud.

The fraudulent payments continued monthly for 12 years, totaling over $620,000. Based on what we have learned, VA controls and procedures were not followed. As a result, the fraud was not discovered and could have continued indefinitely were it not for the perpetrator’s arrest on drug charges.

In the second case, a supervisor at VA Regional Office St. Petersburg stole $615,451 by creating a fraudulent disability compensation award in the name of the employee’s fiancé, a veteran who had served in the Persian Gulf War. The fraud began in March 1997 and continued until the employee’s arrest in January 1999.

After the initial fraudulent payment, the perpetrator used VBA’s computer system on 10 occasions between March and October 1997, to retroactively increase the fraudulent payments she was sending to their bank account. These actions generated a series of one-time payments totaling about $520,000, and incrementally increased the recurring benefit payments to $5,011 monthly. At the time of her arrest, the perpetrator was a Veterans Service Center Section Chief, a mid-level managerial position. We are continuing to investigate related matters.

As a result of the discovery of these thefts, the Under Secretary for Benefits requested that my office review internal controls in the C&P program to determine what vulnerabilities existed that may have facilitated these frauds. This past June, I provided the Under Secretary our vulnerability assessment, reporting on 18 observed vulnerabilities in 6 general internal control categories. We then began an initiative to assess the scope and breadth of vulnerability in selected areas and to try to determine if there is a systemic problem.

This follow-up activity will require a substantial amount of time to complete and our efforts to identify, investigate, and prosecute employee fraud in the C&P program will continue indefinitely.

<H1 style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt">Vulnerabilities that Diminish Quality Control and Facilitate the Ability to Commit Fraud </H1>

Separation-of-duty controls intended to prevent fraud had been abandoned or circumvented. The objective of separation-of-duty is to prevent fraud by precluding any one person from having the ability to both authorize and release payments. With appropriate separation-of-duty controls in place, complicity of two or more employees is generally needed to commit a theft, thereby reducing the opportunity and vulnerability for crime.

As a means to speed up claims processing at VARO St. Petersburg:

§ Some VBA payment authorizers routinely approved award actions of peers and subordinates, and released payment, without actually reviewing the evidence that supported the action or verifying that the claim was adjudicated in accordance with law.

§ Payment authorization authority, previously reserved to senior experienced claims examination staff, had been delegated to less experienced employees. Accordingly, less experienced employees could trade casework among themselves, rather than refer the casework to a few senior officials, to obtain payment authorization. This practice expanded the overall production capability of the work unit, but quality assurance was reduced and vulnerability to employee fraud increased.

At some VBA regions, employees were authorized duplicative computer command authorities, in violation of VA policy, apparently to increase overall production capability. This gave the employees the ability to circumvent separation-of-duty controls and computer edits to create a benefit account and approve payment, without the need to refer the case to another employee for authorization. Employees with these extraordinary authorities could also create a fictitious benefit payment account and generate payments, or fraudulently upgrade the benefit payments of otherwise entitled beneficiaries, without the knowledge of other VBA employees. We also found other significant computer access vulnerabilities that could be exploited to perpetrate a fraud, such as by acquiring and using the computer access authorities of others to conceal the perpetrator’s involvement.

Large one-time payments were not always substantively reviewed before payment was released. VBA policy required that claims payments exceeding prescribed amounts ($15,000 for disability compensation payments) be reviewed and approved by the payment authorizer and the manager of the Adjudication Division (Adjudication Officer), before payment was released. We found that such third signature reviews were not always performed as required or, in some cases, may have been perfunctory. Additionally, the third review was only a paper review and there was no computer edit to prevent release of a payment absent the third review. This was a critical internal control vulnerability that facilitated the VARO St. Petersburg fraud.

Another issue relates to failure to control and secure records regarding employee claims for VA benefits. VBA policy requires that employee claims be adjudicated at another designated Regional Office, not the Office where the employee works. Additionally, policy requires that employee claims records be maintained at the designated office and held in special secure areas. We have learned that this policy has not been implemented at all VBA regions.

Vulnerabilities that Need to be Corrected to Help Identify Potential Ongoing But As Yet Undetected Fraud Or Abuse

Long running benefit payments need to be reviewed for continuing entitlement. At present, running awards of benefits are reviewed only if a claims examiner or rating specialist establishes a future suspense date control. For example, a control might be established for a future medical examination if the claimant's medical condition is expected to improve, or some other future event is anticipated. In most cases, no control exists for future review of static conditions.

Lack of control for future review creates vulnerability that can facilitate a fraud such as in the VARO New York embezzlement. In that case the fraud continued for many years during which time monthly payments exceeding $5,000 continued. No control existed that would have triggered a review for continuing entitlement.

Continued entitlement should also be verified when mail is returned undeliverable. The investigation of the VARO New York embezzlement found that the crime may have been detected years earlier, preventing years of inappropriate payments, had returned mail been property handled. In this case, as in most VA benefit cases, payments were deposited by electronic funds transfer directly to the perpetrator's bank account. During the investigation we noted that the VARO was holding returned mail related to the fraudulent award that dated back several years. Because the mailing address was that of an abandoned building, the Postal Service returned the VBA computer generated informational mail as undeliverable. Employees at the Regional Office filed the mail without action to determine a correct address and payments continued until 1998 when the perpetrator was arrested on the drug charge.

VBA managers have stated that the volume of returned mail has increased substantially since the advent of electronic funds transfer, to the point that many regions have given up on routine attempts to obtain current mailing addresses on returned mail. This incident serves as a red flag highlighting the potential consequences of not acting on returned mail.

Vulnerabilities That Need To Be Corrected To Improve the Ability to Investigate and Prosecute Crime

To improve the ability to investigate and prosecute crime involving the C&P program, we have asked the Under Secretary to give priority attention to the recording and documentation issues cited in our assessment, particularly the lack of a comprehensive audit trail for rating and authorization actions. As I previously indicated, this documentation shortcoming has inhibited our investigations, necessitating that we undertake highly labor-intensive efforts to reconstruct events.

While I find these employee thefts to be a matter of great concern, there is more at risk from a poor internal control environment than just vulnerability to employee theft. Poor controls and mismanagement can lead to extraordinary program losses unrelated to employee theft. In the last several years, work done by our office in areas concerning improper payments to Federal and State prisoners, disability off-sets from military pay, and payments to deceased beneficiaries have identified opportunities for the Department to save millions of dollars. Recommendations related to these issues remain to be fully implemented.

Debt Management Issues

As part of our continuing oversight of the Veterans Health Administration, the OIG issued five reports over the last 4 years on medical care cost recovery issues. Additionally, at the request of the Under Secretary for Health, we conducted an audit of insurance billing practices at one VA outpatient clinic. The issues identified in these reports are recognized by VA top management as being at high risk, and if not corrected could significantly reduce future revenue streams and adversely impact the public trust.

Three reports on debt collection surfaced a recurring issue that demonstrated that VHA could increase its medical care cost fund collections by tens of millions of dollars each year. The audits found that VHA management had not closely monitored or actively managed the Medical Care Cost Fund (MCCF) billing and collection process. Additionally, one of these reports found that management action was needed to correct and prevent improper billings of VA pensioners and service-connected veterans.

Two other reports focused on debt establishment, demonstrating that VHA needed to improve procedures to prevent unnecessary income verification, ensure compliance with Privacy Act requirements, and increase MCCF revenues. Management had not established performance measures and monitors to effectively oversee and enforce compliance with established debt management policy, procedures, and laws.

<H1 style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt">AARP Billing Practices</H1>

In 1999, at the request of the Under Secretary for Health, the OIG conducted a review of medical insurance billing practices at VA Outpatient Clinic (OPC), Sepulveda, CA. The purpose of our review was to determine the validity of allegations of improper/fraudulent billings to American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Health Care Options, administered by the United Healthcare Insurance Company, and to determine whether there were opportunities to improve billing practices.

Our review substantiated AARP’s allegation of improper billing. We did not substantiate the allegation of fraudulent billings. We found that VAOPC Sepulveda had agreed to refund over $84,000 or 80 percent of AARP insurance payments made in 1997. We also found that VAOPC Sepulveda continued to improperly bill insurance carriers in 1998 for (a) medical services not documented in medical records, (:angry: services incorrectly coded, © services involving “upcoded” bills to indicate a higher level of service than actually provided, and (d) services not covered by insurance. Improper billing occurred primarily because facility staff were improperly using and inaccurately coding Patient Care Encounter Forms. Staff were completing Encounter Forms for purposes of counting workload without considering the impact their entries had on MCCF billings. We also believe that improper billing for medical services could occur at other medical facilities. In response to our briefing and proposed recommendations VHA management took immediate action and developed a detailed strategy to correct and prevent inappropriate billing by VHA facilities.

Procurement and Contracting Activities

We have devoted significant resources to detecting and preventing fraud in VA’s procurement and contracting activities. As a result of our efforts, the Department has recouped over $130 million dollars since FY 1994. OIG has also recommended $250 million in cost avoidance. Our efforts in this area have involved issues such as defective pricing, price reduction and Trade Agreement Act violations on VA’s Federal Supply Schedule contracts, overcharging, product substitution, defective products, defective workmanship, non-compliance with contract terms and conditions, the submission of false claims for payment, and credit card fraud. Our efforts in the contract area have also resulted in a steady increase in the number of companies who have come forward voluntarily to disclose contract problems and make restitution to the Government.

We are currently conducting a general review of contracting practices within VA to assess the impact of procurement reform on the agency’s buying practices. The review involves issues such as local procurements, the procurement of commercial items, the use of impact cards, local prime vendor programs, standardization of items, etc.

This completes my written testimony; I would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.

NOW HAS CONGRESS EVEN LOOKED INTO THIS TO SEE IF EVEN THESE PROBLEMS

HAVE BEEN FIXED OR DO THEY JUST TAKE THE WORD OF VA MANAGEMENT

AND LET THE SAME THINGS GO ON AND ON.

I think we have our answer!

Kelley

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Allan,

And we sit here like dogs begging for scraps. I have read some of this info before and it still infuriates me! Send them all to jail. Crooks. Give the vets who are able to work all of the VA jobs. If you are not a vet, or disabled vet, you can't work at the VARO's. It might stop all the theif's and crookedness and the stealing from vets.

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  • HadIt.com Elder

Actually the Post Office is not the problem. The VA is swamped and the lowest paid employees are used to handle the mail. Its a very good chance that it is much worse than pointed out. By the way 20,000 is nothing more than a guess no one counted it.

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