Senator Calls for Justice Department Probe of VA Relocation Funds Abuse

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

Elevating a story from alleged mismanagement to possible criminality, the ranking senator on the Veterans Affairs panel on Tuesday asked the Attorney General to investigate accusations published last month that Veterans Affairs Department managers spent relocation money to boost their colleagues’ salaries.

The VA inspector general’s office reported on Sept. 28 that the Veterans Benefits Administration spent about $1.8 million on 23 reassignments from fiscal 2013 to fiscal 2015, all but two of which came with pay raises despite an Office of Personnel Management freeze on Senior Executive Service pay from 2010 through 2013 and a separate VBA ban on bonuses because of a backlog in benefits processing.

The total $321,000 in pay raises (averaging $15,286 per reassignment) did not correlate with the extent to which the employees’ job responsibilities increased, the watchdog found.

“This scheme to defraud taxpayers and manipulate the system is, unfortunately, only the latest example of unacceptable misconduct by VA employees,” said Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., in releasing a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “This behavior is unacceptable for any federal employee, but it is particularly egregious in this case because it evinces a mindset that puts veterans last.”

Blumenthal complained that while the VA inspector general “has found evidence indicating criminal activity in a number of their recent investigations, federal prosecutors have declined to pursue the vast majority of cases. As of June 30, 2015, this included 43 of the 55 investigations that VAOIG sent to DOJ related to the manipulation of wait time data for medical appointments.”

He asked Justice to work more closely with the VA inspector general’s office—which has been led by acting leaders for almost two years—“to ensure that its evidence-gathering aligns with your requirements and that you put special emphasis on investigating the possibility of prosecution of cases stemming from these reports. DOJ has an essential role to play in helping to hold any bad actors fully accountable across VA.”

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