Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton today called on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for answers regarding recent reports that top managers at the agency's New York Regional Office (NYRO) mishandled and falsified information on hundreds of veterans' benefits claims. In a letter sent to VA Secretary James B. Peake, Senator Clinton expressed her strong concerns regarding how this pattern of deception has affected the delivery of benefits for New York's disabled veterans, and her desire to see that action is taken to ensure that it does not happen again. Additionally, Senator Clinton stressed the need to streamline the VA benefits system as more veterans continue to return from Iraq and Afghanistan, and emphasized the need for accountability in the department's leadership.
"The deception that took place at the New York Regional Office is beyond unacceptable. When our veterans return home, they should not have to fight another battle simply to get their benefits claims processed," said Senator Clinton. "More must be done to ensure that our heroes are being treated with the respect and honor their service dictates. As a Senator from New York with hundreds of claims pending before the NYRO on behalf of my constituents, I strongly urge the VA to keep me apprised of any and all developments as the investigation into this matter moves forward."
Senator Clinton has been an outspoken advocate for issues important veterans throughout New York and the entire nation. In October, the President signed into law a comprehensive veterans benefit bill which included legislation introduced by Senator Clinton and Congressman John Hall, to overhaul the VA's disability claims system. The Disability Claims Modernization Act makes several sweeping changes to the way the VA processes disability claims so that injured veterans can get the benefits they are owed easier (http://clinton.senate.gov/news/statements/details.cfm?id=304833). Last month Senator Clinton introduced legislation that would create the Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund to provide assistance to homeless veterans (http://clinton.senate.gov/news/statements/details.cfm?id=305184). For more information on Senator Clinton's work on behalf of our veterans, visit: http://clinton.senate.gov/issues/veterans
A copy of the letter to Secretary Peake is attached -
December 5, 2008
The Honorable James B. Peake
United States Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20420
Dear Mr. Secretary:
I am writing in response to recent reports of the mishandling and falsification of information on hundreds of veterans' benefit claims at the New York Regional Office (NYRO) of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). As a result of an internal investigation, the director and five top managers have been relieved of their duties.
Specific allegations made toward upper management include changing intake dates and premature document shredding. Described by some VA representatives as a systematic problem, this poses a serious situation at our processing centers. Investigators have seen first-hand a startling number of claims that contained doctored dates, neglected mail, and improper placement of claims. It is my understanding that several employees confessed that they were instructed by their supervisors to enter incorrect dates on the claims in an attempt to manipulate processing times. These allegations, if proven, must be corrected as quickly and responsibly as possible.
More than 1 million disabled veterans expect to face a backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs in the next year. The New York office alone serves approximately 800,000 veterans residing in New York State. According to VA data, the New York office was tied for second place in having the slowest processing times in the nation. Too often, our veterans must navigate an outdated claims system and a maze of rules that can defy common sense. Some have waited six months for their claims to be processed. More than 30,000 soldiers have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan and many have difficult and complex injuries, including traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. New claims will only increase as soldiers begin to return home. We must not only take steps to improve VA procedures so that claims can be processed and benefits delivered quickly, fairly and accurately but also ensure that trust, honesty, and accountability find their way back into this department's leadership.
By your own testimony to the House Veterans' Affairs Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee this past February, there is a desire to reduce processing times and begin implementing aggressive efforts to hire staff. In our shared interest for the health and welfare of our nation's bravest, and as my office currently has hundreds of benefits claims pending at the NYRO on behalf New York veterans, I respectfully request that you apprise me of any and all updates as this investigation moves forward and alert my office of any new interim and permanent leadership positions which are filled.
Thank you for your attention to this matter, I look forward to working with you to ensure that our veterans receive the care they have earned.
Hillary Rodham Clinton