OIG Monthly Highlights
Read about our top reports and investigations in April 2016 CONGRESSIONAL TESTIMONY Larry M. Reinkemeyer, Assistant Inspector General for Audits and Evaluations (Designee), testified before the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, United States House of Representatives, at a hearing titled “A Continued Assessment of Delays in Veterans’ Access to Health Care” on the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) recent work in this area. Mr. Reinkemeyer discussed recently completed and ongoing OIG work evaluating the extent to which veterans are able to receive timely care. He explained that the results of OIG’s completed work are consistent—VA continues to face challenges in providing timely access to care and managing consult appointments at various points of service. He also noted that a number of OIG Hotline contacts continue to allege inappropriate practices by Veterans Health Administration (VHA) staff that undermine the integrity and reliability of wait time metrics as well as that VHA’s initiatives to provide veterans community care are not working. Mr. Reinkemeyer told the Committee that the administration of its purchased care programs is a major challenge for VHA, in part because VHA schedulers and their supervisors do not follow established VHA scheduling guidance. Mr. Reinkemeyer was accompanied by Mr. Gary Abe, Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Audits and Evaluations.
Office of Inspector General Department of Veterans Affairs Semiannual Report to Congress (SAR) October 1, 2015 - March 31, 2016
The Semiannual Report to Congress summarizes the results of OIG oversight, provides statistical information, and lists all reports issued October 1, 2015–March 31, 2016. During this reporting period, OIG audits, investigations, inspections, evaluations, and other reviews identified over $783 million in monetary benefits for a return of $13 for every dollar invested in OIG oversight. This reduction in return on investment from the preceding reporting period is not unexpected given that OIG continues to focus a significant portion of our resources on reviewing allegations related to wait time manipulation. This work generally does not result in a monetary benefit; rather, it focuses on improving access to health care for veterans. During this reporting period, OIG issued 158 reports and work products on VA programs and operations, made 741 recommendations, and conducted investigations that led to 185 arrests.
Review of VA’s Compliance With the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act for FY 2015
We conducted this review to determine whether VA complied with the requirements of the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act (IPERA) for fiscal year (FY) 2015. VA reported improper payment estimates totaling approximately $5 billion in its FY 2015 Agency Financial Report (AFR), compared with $1.6 billion for FY 2014, primarily because of improvements in estimating improper payments for four programs. In both years, VA reported improper payment data based on the previous fiscal year activity. VA did not fully comply with IPERA. VA met four of six IPERA requirements for FY 2015 by publishing the AFR; performing risk assessments; publishing improper payment estimates; and providing information on corrective action plans. VA did not comply with two of six IPERA requirements by not maintaining a gross improper payment rate of less than 10 percent and meeting reduction targets for all programs published in the AFR. Two programs exceeded the 10 percent threshold: VA Community Care and Purchased Long Term Care Support and Services. Eight programs did not meet reduction targets: Compensation; Education Chapter 1606; Education Chapter 1607; VA Community Care; Purchased Long Term Services and Support; Beneficiary Travel; Supplies and Materials; and Disaster Relief Act—Hurricane Sandy. In addition, the Veterans Health Administration underestimated improper payments for one program and did not achieve the expected level of accuracy for two others. Likewise, the Veterans Benefits Administration expended considerable effort to collect improper payments because of a program design issue with drill pay, and it needs to develop a plan and seek the assistance of Office of Management and Budget to coordinate future resolution. We recommended that the Under Secretary for Health take steps to reduce improper payment rates, achieve reduction targets, and improve improper payment estimates. We recommended that the Acting Under Secretary for Benefits take steps to achieve reduction targets and address the issue of prohibited concurrent payments of certain program benefits and military reserve pay. We recommended that the Principal Executive Director Office of Acquisition, Logistics, and Construction take steps to achieve the reduction target for one program. VA management concurred with our recommendations, and we will follow up on corrective actions in the FY 2016 review.
Review of Alleged Lack of Access Controls for VA's Project Management Accountability System (PMAS) Dashboard
The Office of Inspector General received an allegation that the Office of Information and Technology (OI&T) had ineffective access controls over the Project Management Accountability System (PMAS) Dashboard and related project management data and metric reporting information. We substantiated the allegation that PMAS Dashboard access controls were inadequate. OI&T did not configure 17 of the 18 PMAS Dashboard access groups to provide the least needed access privileges even though VA policy required OI&T grant access to VA systems based on the least need (the practice of limiting access to the minimal level that will allow normal performance of duties). Instead, OI&T designed these 17 groups to have full user access privileges to the PMAS Dashboard data, regardless of individual user need. This occurred because the OI&T director concluded that the PMAS data were not at risk; thus, OI&T should not spend limited funds to develop group access ranging from read only to full access. When requested, OI&T staff could not provide a cost analysis identifying the costs to develop access controls. In addition, OI&T did not develop user access logs. This prevented OI&T from identifying active users and periodically validating their actions. Thus, OI&T could not effectively manage its risk to data integrity. Without configuring all the PMAS Dashboard groups to restrict user access to the data, VA does not comply with Federal Information Technology security requirements and VA Handbook 6500, and has assumed unnecessary risks to the integrity of its project management data. We recommended the Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology create read only access to PMAS and ensure each user’s access is based on the least needed privilege. We also recommended that the Assistant Secretary develop Dashboard access logs and periodically review all users’ access to ensure users still have legitimate needs for system access. The Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology concurred with our recommendations and provided acceptable corrective action plans. We will monitor their implementation.
The Honorable Michael Missal assumes leadership role at VA OIG
The VA Office of Inspector General welcomed Mr. Michael Missal, who was sworn in today by Mr. Robert McDonald, Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs to lead the Office of Inspector General (OIG). Mr. Missal was nominated to be the Inspector General by President Barack Obama on October 05, 2015, and unanimously confirmed by the Senate on April 19, 2016.
Review of Alleged Misuse of eBenefits Accounts by a VA Supportive Services for Veteran Families Provider
We performed this review in response to allegations received through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General Hotline in November 2014. This review sought to assess the merits of allegations of misuse of veterans’ eBenefits accounts by a Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) provider. Allegedly, Volunteers of America in Durango, Colorado (VOA Durango), used a veteran’s private information on the eBenefits Web site to obtain documents including, but not limited to, a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty (DD Form 214). In addition, the complainant alleged a VOA Durango staff member established eBenefits accounts using private information without the veteran’s consent. We found no evidence that VOA Durango staff or management misused veterans’ private information to access eBenefits accounts, or created eBenefits accounts without a veteran’s knowledge. We reviewed and analyzed dates of veterans’ SSVF participation and reviewed eBenefits accounts associated with the participants listed in the allegation. We reviewed documentation in the participants’ files, including intake forms, eligibility determinations, DD Forms 214, and the services provided to the participants. We reviewed internal controls in place to prevent unauthorized creation and access to eBenefits accounts. We found the controls for establishing an eBenefits account required two levels of authentication to access a veteran’s DD Form 214 used to verify military service. We found no evidence in the case files that eligibility documents were obtained from eBenefits accounts without the veteran’s knowledge. We made no recommendations and the Director of the New Mexico VA Health Care System did not have any comments on this report.
Review of Alleged Manipulation of Quality Review Results at VA Regional Office San Diego, CA
In February 2015, the Office of Inspector General received allegations that data integrity and mismanagement issues were occurring at the San Diego VA Regional Office (VARO). The complainant alleged VARO staff altered individual quality review results and hid claims from the quality review process by completing them during overtime hours. To support the allegations, the complainant provided 23 individual quality reviews completed by Quality Review Team (QRT) staff that VARO management had inappropriately overturned. We assessed the merits of the allegations and did not substantiate that VARO management inappropriately overturned, altered, or interfered with established procedures for reconsideration of individual quality review errors. We also did not substantiate the allegation that staff at the San Diego VARO worked some cases during overtime hours to avoid having the cases undergo individual quality reviews by QRT staff. During the course of our review, we observed that VARO management did not provide adequate oversight to ensure staff followed its local policy to correct individual quality review errors within 5 days. Of the 50 errors sampled, 39 required corrective actions, such as revised decision documents, while the 11 remaining errors related to actions, such as improper development for evidence, and did not require revised decision documents. We also confirmed that VBA did not have a timeliness standard for staff to correct individual quality review errors at its 56 VAROs. Delays in correcting the individual quality review errors at the San Diego VARO resulted in improper benefits payments to some veterans. We recommended the San Diego VARO Director implement a plan to ensure staff comply with local policy to correct individual quality review errors, as well as take action to correct the backlog of individual quality review errors pending correction. Furthermore, we recommended the Under Secretary for Benefits establish a timeliness standard for VBA staff to correct individual quality review errors. The Under Secretary for Benefits and VARO Director concurred with our findings and the corrective actions were responsive to the recommendations.