VA chief orders probe of disability rating system
Responding to Illinois politicians’ demands for an investigation, the outgoing Veterans Affairs secretary Friday asked his department’s inspector general to review the VA’s rating system for disability claims.
“I am very concerned about allegations of disparity in how VA decides the claims of Chicago veterans,” said Secretary Anthony Principi in a news release issued late Friday afternoon.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) was surprised that Principi would involve his department’s inspector general because most inspectors have a tense relationship with their department heads.
“This is a bold move,” Durbin said. “It’s like inviting the police department in to take a look around your apartment. I think the secretary, having taken a look at the basic information, understands there is a substantial problem when it comes to the way Chicago disabled vets are treated.”
Jan. 5 deadline
Durbin had asked Principi to come to Chicago to meet with disabled veterans after reading a Sun-Times investigative report last week that showed the Chicago VA office is among the stingiest in the country for disability awards.
Illinois congressmen have given Principi until Jan. 5 to answer why Illinois veterans receive thousands of dollars less than wounded veterans from other states. As part of that push, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) demanded the VA study how it awards disability pay and recommend a more equitable system.
The VA told Hastert’s office Friday that as part of the probe, a team of investigators will be sent to the Chicago VA’s regional office to comb through disability records. The VA did not say when investigators would arrive.
Richard Braley, assistant director at the Chicago VA, said he was unaware of the pending review.
“We would welcome anyone from the VA,” Braley said.
Veterans in Chicago, though, had mixed feelings about the investigation.
“I think they should go back 20 years in records,” said Chicago Ald. James Balcer (11th), a decorated Vietnam War veteran. “Every claim denied should be reviewed. I’m glad Principi is doing this, but it’s late in the game. These people at the VA should have been held accountable a long time ago.”
Balcer is holding hearings about the disparity in Illinois veterans’ benefits Tuesday at City Hall.
A wounded Vietnam veteran from Villa Park who says he has been fighting for benefits since 1986 applauded involving the inspector general.
“I hope something happens,” said William Wesley, 54, who was shot in the ankle in 1969 during an ambush. “I’m not the only veteran walking around in constant pain.”
But Daniel Howell from the Paralyzed Veterans of America said the review is not needed: “I think it’s spending a lot of taxpayer money to bring in investigators when measures are already in place to correct the system.”