Chairman Filner to VA: Confidence in VA Completely Shattered by Recent Document Shredding
November 19, 2008, Washington, DC – House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA) released this statement following today’s roundtable discussion on the shredding of veterans’ documents by the VA:
“Today’s roundtable revealed a number of shortcomings within the VA that are hardly new and most definitely failing our nation’s veterans. I am encouraged that the VA came forward and revealed that important documents were slated for the shredding bin.
“I remain angry that a culture of dishonesty has led to increased mistrust of the VA within the veteran community. A systemic lack of integrity seems pervasive and that is a shame.
“First, I am not convinced that only 500 documents were saved from the shredding bin. This is merely a snapshot in time. The VA was unable to convince me that more documents have not been shredded in the past and I honestly do not know how many records have been destroyed and how many files lost over the past decades.
“Second, we have heard promises from the VA before. We have heard that the claims process will go paperless. Training will be improved. VA’s latest promise is that veterans can submit statements containing information that will be used in the adjudication process in lieu of documents missing from their files. While this is an important step forward, I am skeptical that this new step will become part of the claims process.
“Additionally, the VA’s outreach has been limited to a reliance on media reports and a message on the VA website. The VA did not report a systematic way of reaching out to veterans to alert them of new policies that may have huge implications in their claims going forward.
“Finally, Congress has routinely asked VA what it needs to adequately care for veterans and the response has been that it is adequately poised. This is clearly not adequate care for our veterans.
“Listen, this is a long-term systemic problem that will require uncomfortable changes, long hours, unprecedented cooperation, extraordinary progress, and a new system of independent oversight. Clearly, the current system of self-reporting and internal regulation is ineffective. Congress must hold the VA accountable for a job NOT WELL DONE.
“A complete paradigm shift is necessary and I look forward to working with new leadership to correct the problems plaguing the benefits claims system. I am pleased that veterans have begun to work on transition issues in the impending Obama Administration. I plan to work with veterans service organizations, veterans, and the VA to fundamentally change the way that the Veterans Benefits Administration conducts business.”
Chairman Filner provided this opening statement to begin the roundtable discussion:
Good morning and welcome to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ roundtable discussion on the very serious issue of the shredding of veterans documents — whether they are claims or other records.
On October 13th of this year, we . . . the Committee and our Veterans . . . were shocked by the disturbing headline:
“SHREDDING OUR TRUST IN THE VA — VA investigators find entire claims and other critical documents in shredding bins at Detroit Regional Office”.
A nationwide review of the VA’s 57 regional offices found 41 had records in their shredder bins that should not have been there. In all, nearly 500 benefit claims records had been erroneously slated for destruction, including claims for compensation, notices of disagreement with a claim decision, and death certificates.
These actions completely shatter confidence in the whole VA system. These documents are matters of life and death for some of these veterans. This episode has further strengthened my belief that VA desperately needs new leadership, and it needs new leadership today. These incidents and “mistakes,” all occurring to the detriment of our veterans and never to their benefit, remind me more of the Keystone Cops rather than a supportive organization dedicated to taking care of our veterans.
Shortly, we will hear from Admiral Patrick Dunne, the Under Secretary for Benefits for the VA, who will give an overview of the situation and an update on the VA’s actions regarding this intolerable situation. I suspect that his comments will generate some lively discussion on the issue about how we can best proceed from this point and never allow this to occur again.
I purposefully chose this “roundtable” format, and invited stakeholders in the veterans community, so that we can address this issue, have an interactive discussion, and get to practical solutions to solve these problems. Concerns have been raised that this meeting has not been called a hearing. These concerns are unfounded and I think our veterans care less about what we call it and more about what we do. It is vital that we quickly get to the bottom of this and take concrete steps to correct and fix this today — not tomorrow or next week. We need to hear what the VA is doing and the internal controls and protections that seemingly were in place to prevent this, and what has been done since the incident. As I said earlier, “These documents are matters of life and death for some of these veterans.”
I believe this is a critical juncture for the VA. It is on the verge of completely losing the trust and confidence of the people that it is supposed to represent…the very same people it has been entrusted to care for.
I believe the following statement in the article I cited previously adequately sums up the current feelings of our veterans:
“This is not business as usual. The recent revelations of the willful and wanton destruction of vital veteran’s records are not just another ‘isolated incident.’ We have now moved to the next level of the game. What was maddening last year is now possibly criminal.”
So this morning we are going to attempt to get a better idea of the scope of this problem and what the VA is doing to respond to it. What specific steps has the VA taken and what has it done to begin to rectify the problem?