By Leo Shane III
Military Times Staff writer
Sep. 10, 2014 - 04:00PM
A senior attorney at the Board of Veterans Appeals told lawmakers Wednesday that managers at the agency covered up delays in appeals processing and doctored records to protect their performance bonuses.
Lawmakers said they were dismayed not just at the allegations but how closely they echo earlier VA scandals of case manipulation and whistleblower retaliation that have been the source of months of oversight and criticism.
In testimony before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Kelli Kordich, an Army veteran and 15-year employee at the board, described “corruption and blatant disregard for our nation’s veterans” and “a toxic management system that uses a culture of fear and intimidation to attain its goals.”
Leaders at the board denied the charges, saying lengthy delays in processing appeals — an average three year wait — are a result of the complexity of the issues involved and the increasing workload of the board.
But the allegations cast doubt on reports from the board that it’s processing cases at record rates, and represent more headaches for VA officials who are trying to restore public confidence in their work and data.
Kordich detailed problems with cases that sat on senior leaders’ desks awaiting final signatures for hundreds of days. When VA leadership was alerted to the problem, Kordich said, board officials changed records to cover up the wait times.
She also said lawyers were forced to rush through other appeals to help meet annual workload goals, possibly compromising veterans’ cases. And she claimed that when she brought the problems forward, she received retaliation in the form of reassignment to a windowless office with limited responsibilities.
Board of Appeals Executive in Charge Laura Eskenazi denied those charges, saying the problems stem from an increase in appeals and not mismanagement by senior officials. The board has processed more than 50,000 appeals so far this fiscal year, but Eskenazi said another 60,000 are still in the pipeline.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., called the delays and allegations “alarming” and said he now questions if any data coming from the board can be trusted.
In recent months, VA employees have come before the committee to testify about manipulation of patient wait time data, claims backlog figures and performance bonus metrics.
New VA Secretary Bob McDonald has promised to have outside auditors review department record keeping practices and instill a veterans-centered culture at the department