Oct 18, VA Claim Scandal: Senator Akaka Wants Long-Term Solutions to Protect Veterans’ Records

October 16, 2008 – U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, issued a statement today in response to reports of inappropriate disposal of documents at several Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Regional Offices.  VA’s Office of Inspector General (IG) has found some evidence that more than one VA Regional Office has shredded documents which veterans submitted for pending disability claims.  In response, VA has announced a temporary freeze on shredding documents at all Regional Offices.

“I support VA’s temporary freeze, but this is not a long-term solution.  VA needs an enforced and understood policy which preserves documents relevant to pending claims, without leaving veterans’ personal information open to identity theft.  I trust that VA will act quickly, as they should,” said Akaka.  

“Some documents must be properly disposed of due to space constraints and privacy issues.  Veterans must be able to trust VA to safely keep their records.  If they cannot, VA will not be able to do its job, and veterans will not get the benefits they have earned through their service,” said Akaka.   

VA’s statement is here: http://www1.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=1602

VA Tightens Protections for Veterans Paperwork

October 16, 2008

Secretary Peake: Lapses “Unacceptable,” Procedures and Accountability Tightened

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake vowed swift action after a handful of documents related to veterans’ applications for financial benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) were found among documents identified for shredding.  The documents, which were not duplicated in government files, could have affected veterans’ eligibility for benefits.

“I insist on the highest possible standards for processing and safeguarding information in VA’s custody,” Peake said. “It is unacceptable that documents important to a veteran’s claim for benefits should be misplaced or destroyed.”

Peake said VA’s Office of the Inspector General (IG) is investigating the misplaced documents, and anyone who violated Department policy on protecting documents will be held accountable. 

The documents were discovered by employees of VA’s IG office during an audit at three of VA’s 56 regional benefits offices, which process applications for disability pay, VA pensions, educational assistance, home loans and similar financial benefits. 

IG auditors found a handful of documents waiting to be shredded, which might have affected the fate of veterans’ applications.  The documents were returned to the proper offices for processing.

Retired Rear Adm. Patrick W. Dunne, VA’s Under Secretary for Benefits, immediately directed all of VA’s regional offices to suspend all document shredding while IG and VA officials determine whether the problem is more widespread.  Directors of the regional offices will have to certify in writing that no original copies of key documents or records from veterans’ cases under consideration are being destroyed.

VA has procedures for determining the disposition of paperwork.  Original copies of discharge papers, marriage certificates and death certificates are returned to veterans or families when no longer needed.  Duplicate copies of paperwork no longer needed are appropriately destroyed to protect the privacy of veterans and their families.

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