(Philadelphia, PA) Rep. Charlie Dent (PA-15), Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Rep. Ralph A. Abraham (LA-5), M.D., Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (DAMA) Subcommittee organized meetings with both administrators and employees at the offices of the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Regional Office (VARO) this morning.
The Philadelphia VARO was the subject of a recent scathing Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VA OIG) report detailing major failings in the processing and management of benefits for veterans. Data manipulation of veterans’ benefits claims, hiding unprocessed mail and failing to respond to over 30,000 inquiries from veterans were just a few examples of the disservice detailed in the report.
“Exactly two months ago, the Office of Inspector General released their report which detailed the consequences of a profoundly corrosive and distrustful climate,” said Chairman Dent. “The lack of accountability and the absence of proper checks and balances allowed those entrusted with meeting the needs of their customers – in this case veterans who served and fought for our country – to implement improper and dishonest practices.”
Dent and Chairman Abraham were joined by Rep. Sanford Bishop, Jr. (GA-2) Ranking Member of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, Rep. Corrine Brown (FL-5) Ranking Member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Rep. Brendan Boyle (PA-13), Rep. John Carney (DE-At Large), Rep. Ryan Costello (PA-6), Rep. Chaka Fattah (PA-2), Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (PA-8) and Rep. Patrick Meehan (PA-7). Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey were represented by staff at the meetings as well.
The group met with the VARO management team first and then with a group of over a hundred and fifty employees.
“There was some disconnect between what the managers were telling us about progress and what the employees told us they were still seeing at their jobs,” Dent said. “Frankly, I think the employees get it. Many of the employees here are veterans themselves, and they want to do their best for their fellow veterans who depend on them. It was both eye-opening and heartening to hear their accounts.”
A report prepared by the VA Administrative Investigations Board (AIB) will be released on June 30th and will list specific management failures related to the OIG investigation as well as suggested disciplinary actions. The release of this report is crucial to moving on with lessons learned and getting the VARO back on track.
“The Office of Inspector General report was a telescope. It was big picture,” Chairman Dent noted. “The AIB report will be looking at the VARO’s problems with a microscope. It will set out a course of action necessary to return quality of service to the levels our veterans deserve, and it will give us a chance to judge whether or not the perceptional gap between management and the employees has been bridged. I commend the progress and steps that the VA’s leadership in both Philadelphia and DC have taken to implement the necessary reforms, and look forward to continuing to be a partner in those efforts through my work in Congress.”
Dent thanked his House colleagues for their participation and leadership at the meeting. “I greatly appreciate Chairman Abraham for his help in organizing today’s meeting. I also appreciate the cooperation and interest shown by the two Ranking Members, Representatives Brown and Bishop. Their traveling to join the discussion and to provide experience and insight is something I truly appreciate. Likewise, Representatives Boyle, Carney, Costello, Fattah, Fitzpatrick and Meehan have shown extraordinary leadership in making sure the veterans in their districts are receiving the respect and service they deserve.” Dent concluded.
Chairman Dent made it clear that the matter was far from closed in his eyes. “Congress has an oversight responsibility and we will continue to demand accountability and superior service for the veterans who depend on benefits administered through the VARO,” he concluded.
Representative Dent serves as the Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies.
Contact: Shawn Millan (610) 770-3490