Thursday, October 16, 2008

VA Tightens Protections for Veterans Paperwork



Peake: Lapses "Unacceptable," Procedures and Accountability Tightened

WASHINGTON (Oct. 16, 2008) -- Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B.
Peake vowed swift action after a handful of documents related to
veterans' applications for financial benefits from the Department of
Veterans Affairs (VA) were found among documents identified for
shredding. The documents, which were not duplicated in government
files, could have affected veterans' eligibility for benefits.

"I insist on the highest possible standards for processing and
safeguarding information in VA's custody," Peake said. "It is
unacceptable that documents important to a veteran's claim for benefits
should be misplaced or destroyed."

Peake said VA's Office of the Inspector General (IG) is investigating
the misplaced documents, and anyone who violated Department policy on
protecting documents will be held accountable.

The documents were discovered by employees of VA's IG office during an
audit at three of VA's 56 regional benefits offices, which process
applications for disability pay, VA pensions, educational assistance,
home loans and similar financial benefits.

IG auditors found a handful of documents waiting to be shredded, which
might have affected the fate of veterans' applications. The documents
were returned to the proper offices for processing.

Retired Rear Adm. Patrick W. Dunne, VA's Under Secretary for Benefits,
immediately directed all of VA's regional offices to suspend all
document shredding while IG and VA officials determine whether the
problem is more widespread. Directors of the regional offices will have
to certify in writing that no original copies of key documents or
records from veterans' cases under consideration are being destroyed.

VA has procedures for determining the disposition of paperwork.
Original copies of discharge papers, marriage certificates and death
certificates are returned to veterans or families when no longer needed.
Duplicate copies of paperwork no longer needed are appropriately
destroyed to protect the privacy of veterans and their families.