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Witness: VA's 'morally bankrupt' managers cheated on veterans benefits backlog, then harassed whistleblowers

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 10: Chairman of U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) speaks during a news conference July 10, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Rep. Miller held the news conference to discuss the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. Alex Wong/Getty Images

A whistleblower working in the Department of Veterans Affairs testified Monday night that VA officials purposefully manipulated data to make it look like they were methodically eliminating the backlog of veterans benefits claims, and then harassed employees who tried to alert others to the scam.

Kristen Ruell is an employee at the VA's Philadelphia regional office as a quality review specialist. She told the House Veterans Affairs Committee Monday night that the VA issued a letter allowing officials to put new dates on benefit claims that were lost and later rediscovered.

Chairman of U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) heard more disaster stories from the VA Monday night. Alex Wong/Getty Images

But she said that because the VA was trying to create the appearance of eliminating the claims backlog, the Philadelphia office started putting new dates on all benefit claims. In some cases, she said, claims that were five years old and were known to the VA had new dates put on them to make them look less old.

"The memo was used to minimize the average days pending of a claim to make the regional office's numbers look better," she said.

"The VA's problems are a result of morally bankrupt managers that through time and grade have moved up into powerful positions where they have the power to and continue to ruin people's lives," she added. "I do not believe in manipulating data to achieve monetary gain for myself while hurting the veterans and their survivors."

Ruell recounted another story in which VA managers created incentives for workers to quickly process benefit claims received through the mail that were difficult to process. She said the result was that bins full of mail were simply shredded.

She said the result of her blowing the whistle on these practices was retaliation by her superiors.

"After my last whistle blowing attempt, my name was forwarded to the people I reported," she said. "The next morning, my car was dented and the following morning I came out to a big mess of coffee thrown on the hood and windshield of my car.

"Although I cannot prove that this was done by the people I reported, I do not put anything past the managers of the Philadelphia regional office."

Another witness, Javier Soto, told the committee Monday night that he was told his "services were no longer required," after he issued a report saying a quality review team was not performing well.

Testimony heard Monday night is the latest in the long-running saga of the House's effort to uncover the rat's nest of corruption at lies at the VA, which has already led to the resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki, and at this point could lead to more firings.

Both the House and Senate have passed legislation to make it easier to fire officials involved in the coverup, and are trying to negotiate a final bill.

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