Watchdog reviews allegations of 'gross mismanagement' at Philadelphia Veterans Affairs office

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The Veteran Affairs' watchdog is reviewing more than 100 allegations of "gross mismanagement and potential wrongdoing" at the Philadelphia benefits office, a top official said.

The investigation by the VA's Office of Inspector General began in June with an unannounced site visit and has since expanded, Assistant Inspector General Linda Halliday testified Friday at an oversight hearing of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs in Pemberton, New Jersey.

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Investigators released preliminary findings that touched on security and working conditions at the benefits office, The Philadelphia Inquirer ( ) reported.

VA employees told investigators who visited the converted warehouse this summer that they pull tarps over their computers when it rains, endure rodent infestations and freeze in the winter.

Additionally, doors are unsecured, raising concerns about the security of veterans' personal information, the report said. Employees have reported thefts of a VA laptop and money from the office.

Investigators called the working environment "unacceptable" and said it was negatively affecting employees' health, morale and productivity.

The office's director, Diana Rubens, said employees are being moved to another space recently vacated by the Social Security Administration.

Inspectors have previously found evidence that staffers were manipulating dates to hide delays and make old claims appear newer. Kristen Ruell, a whistleblower who works in the office, testified Friday that the problem continues. She said fellow employees have told her that claims now are not being marked with any dates, causing them to get lost in the system.

Rubens said she was unaware of that problem and would look into it immediately. She said the earlier mistakes were caused by a misunderstanding of VA policy, prompting skepticism from Republican Rep. Jon Runyan, who called the hearing.

"There is always an excuse, and it always seems it's misinterpretation or misunderstanding," he said. "Stepping up and saying you were wrong is the first step to fixing it. And I don't think anybody gets the sense that anybody is willing to do that."

The office processes claims for 825,000 veterans in eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware.


Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer,