NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - The VA System in crisis, facing a backlog of thousands of veterans in need of health care. Now, new details are being uncovered by the CBS 11 I-Team about another issue of systematic neglect. This time it deals with how the federal government is handling aging veterans' bank accounts.
We are talking about some of the most vulnerable veterans; these are the men and women who mentally cannot take care of themselves or their money. When this happens, the Veterans Affairs Department steps in and pairs the veteran with a fiduciary.
These financial guardians, a part of the VA Fiduciary Program, are supposed to make sure a veterans needs are met and their money is protected. But the CBS 11 I-Team found in many cases that's not what's happening.
Allen Manning takes pride in the word-puzzles he works on and the pictures he colors. It's the same pride he had while serving in the US Army as a cook.
The group home Manning lives in now is a far cry from where he was nearly a year ago; the conditions were deplorable and his food was barley edible. It was no place for anyone to live.
"His microwave caught on fire and his kitchen was burned," Chris Claussen, Director of VetGuard, explained. "He tried to hire somebody, a neighbor to help him repair his kitchen, and unfortunately when he gave this person the money, she stole the money."
Claussen runs a non-profit guardianship program out of Dallas called VetGuard. He says Manning's situation is just one example of a bigger issue brewing within the Veteran's Administration.
Manning is enrolled in the VA's Fiduciary Program, which is supposed to pair him up with someone who watches over his money. But these VA guardians are not required to watch over his health or daily needs.
It's that disconnect that landed Allen Manning in Judge Brenda Thompson's court.
"It just kind of outraged me that people who had served us and served wonderfully in combat and in other situations, and we could not find an arrangement for them," Judge Thompson told us.
Thompson says her court and guardians programs like VetGuard want to help. But with the VA fiduciaries in control of a veterans' finances, they are limited.
"We have identified veterans who need the services of a guardianship program, I am challenged in terms of finding a way to assist them," Judge Thompson added.
Claussen worries there are a lot more veterans out there living like Allen Manning once did; the government holding on tight to their money and refusing to work together.
"We need the funds to take care of these things," Claussen said. "And we're not talking extravagant expenses. Just everyday things."
On top of this neglect, the CBS 11 I-Team also found cases where some of these fiduciaries are downright stealing from veterans, the very people they have been assigned to protect. Since 2010, more than 40 cases have been investigated and prosecuted by the Office of the Inspector General.
The CBS 11 I-Team also uncovered, there are at least 20 more cases where fiduciary fraud was investigated and substantiated; however, those cases weren't prosecuted.
Just this past month, the OIG also conducted an investigation of the Fiduciary Program in the Eastern Hub region. (Texas falls within the Lincoln Regional Hub.) Investigators reviewed 214 allegations of misuse of funds, substantiating 190 of them. Several of those allegations had been taken in by the regional hub, but never investigated.
The OIG report also found twelve cases where fiduciaries assigned by the Veteran's Administration had misused approximately $944,000. Even worse, investigators found nearly 11,000 field examinations had not been done, putting the health and well-being of our Nation's veterans at risk.
VA Fiduciary Program Response:
David R. McLenachen, Lincoln Regional Hub Fiduciary Program Director (through his media relations office)
"The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) wants to ensure that all Veterans, family members, and their survivors are provided the benefits and services to which they are entitled under the law. The intent of the Fiduciary Program is to protect those individuals who are unable to handle their own financial affairs. VA takes this responsibility seriously, and has made many improvements to the Fiduciary program including consolidation to the current Hub structure in 2012. It should be noted that OIG conducted this review prior to or during completion of ongoing program improvements. We agree with the OIG's findings and have already implemented most of its recommendations. We continue to place high priority and focus on enhancing the consistency and quality of services to all of our beneficiaries."
The Lincoln Regional Hub also added the following changes had been made recently:
• VBA consolidated the Fiduciary business line into hubs to improve oversight
• OIG conducted this review within the first year of consolidation when the hubs were cleaning up misuse issues and fiduciary appointments that accumulated prior to the consolidation
• Deployed a new IT system for better workload management and oversight
• Published a complete rewrite of VA's fiduciary regulations
• Implemented a workload plan for challenged fiduciary hubs to reduce the inventory of pending field examinations
• Planned the deployment of promulgation teams in the fiduciary hubs to ensure more timely release of benefits to beneficiaries
• Published guidance for volunteer fiduciaries and deployed computer-based training for fiduciaries
• Developed and provided training for all new field examiners in FY14 and developed refresher training for use by journey-level field examiners
• Issued standard operating procedures and training for misuse reporting and negligence determinations
• Collaborated with the Office of Resource Management to implement a standard debt collection process for fiduciary debts
• Developed Misuse training for field personnel for deployment in June 2014
• We will continue our progress and efforts to resolve the issues found by OIG during the review.
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