In Phila. visit, VA official pledges change

A top Veterans Affairs administrator visited Philadelphia's VA regional office in Germantown on Monday and pledged that mistakes leading to long delays for veterans seeking benefits are being addressed.

Allison Hickey, undersecretary for benefits for the Department of Veterans Affairs, also acknowledged that staff at the center had changed dates on old claims to make them appear new, one of several discoveries that led to an ongoing investigation at the center, according to two congressmen who met with her for about 90 minutes Monday morning.

Hickey talked with employees during the visit, according to the center's director, but did not appear at an ensuing press briefing with U.S. Reps. Patrick Meehan and Mike Fitzpatrick.

"The statement here was a mea culpa. They made a mistake and that they are trying to rectify it," Meehan said.

Her visit came as lawmakers in Washington prepared Monday to announce new steps to reform the beleaguered veterans agency.

Meehan said the VA Office of Inspector General is expected to release within the next month its findings on the city's VA facility, which processes benefits claims for parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware and also houses one of the nation's three VA pension management centers.

The office is investigating allegations that employees there have processed easy claims first to inflate performance numbers, shredded important mail from vets, and manipulated data to make the claims backlog appear smaller.

VA officials have said dates were changed on some claims due to a misunderstanding of a system-wide policy and not an intentional attempt to hide the backlog.

Meehan said the policy seemed straightforward to him, but did not say whether after meeting with Hickey he believes the manipulation was deliberate.

He said that "regardless of what the intention was," the allegations are of concern because they could mean delays for veterans.