The Department of Veterans Affairs' Office of Inspector General is preparing to issue a damning report that says the VA's Philadelphia office needs to make radical improvements in almost every way it serves veterans — from the most basic level of how it opens and stores veterans claims it receives in the mail, to a full investigation of whether VA staff purposefully ignored these claims.
The OIG has been working on its Philadelphia report for months, and while the detailed report is expected in the coming days or weeks, TheBlaze obtained a copy of the draft set of 35 recommendations it will make for the troubled office (see below for all 35 recommendations).
While the Phoenix VA is often called the epicenter of the VA health care scandal, the Philadelphia office is widely seen as one of the biggest ripples from that scandal. The office has been plagued by basic organizational challenges, and whistleblowers there revealed that many veterans claims received by mail were sitting untouched in the office for years.
Deputy Inspector General Richard Griffin said the Philadelphia office is a place that has seen every sort of major problem faced by the VA nationwide.
"If you had a checklist of possible problem areas in different locations in VBA regional offices, you could have checked just about every one of them that came to our attention in Philly," he told the House Veterans Affairs Committee earlier this month.
Earlier this week, the OIG added that it was also looking into why the VA paid a senior official more than a quarter of a million dollars to relocate to Philadelphia from Washington, D.C.
But even as the OIG prepares to release the long-awaited report, the VA has been scrambling to minimize the damage. Allison Hickey, the top benefits official at the VA, argued to the Associated Press that most of the problems will be fixed or will be on the way to being fixed within days.
"By the time the IG report is released, people will see that 90 to 95 percent of the report will long have been resolved or is in aggressive process of resolution," Hickey said. "I wasn't going to make veterans or family members wait on improvements as we wait for an investigation."
That claim already has some insiders warning that the problem is far too serious to be solved so quickly. One VA official who requested anonymity said much of the work the VA is doing these days is aimed at covering up the scope of the problem.
"What Hickey presents as a solution is yet another scam to conceal the true size of the claims backlog from the media, HVAC and the tax payers," this official said, referring to theHouse Veterans Affairs Committee.
Still, it's unclear whether the Philadelphia office will be able to hide so easily from the dozens of recommendations that the OIG is about to release, many of which show that there is still a significant lack of trust among workers at that office when it comes to the simple task of receiving benefits claims from veterans.
For example, one says the office needs to "ensure staff process all mail concerning beneficiaries in the mailroom within 6 hours of receipt." Another calls for surprise inspections to make sure this is carried out.
Others deal with basic functions such as how to scan documents into the VA's electronic system, and processing the "backlog of returned mail."
The report will also recommend routine inspections of storage space, to make sure that space isn't filled with unanswered veterans claims.
And, it recommends steps to more closely monitor VA staff to make sure they aren't falsifying the office's performance when it comes to processing claims. "We recommended the Philadelphia VA regional office director take appropriate administrative action to hold staff accountable for altering quality review results," one recommendation said.
Finally, it calls on the undersecretary for benefits to convene an "administrative investigation board" to see if the VA regional office management "intentionally misapplied the guidance as a means to remove aging claims from its inventory." Read the full set of recommendations here: