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New York's Department of Veterans' Affairs: Where's the Outrage?

Posted: 01/22/09 04:00 PM ET

The New York City VA Regional Office is woefully inefficient and riddled with corruption. And yet, this outrage remains under-reported and ill-handled.

But, there was a time when veterans were properly cared for.

In 1956, Gen. Omar Bradley, the Chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Pensions wrote a letter to President Eisenhower:

"Now that one-half of our whole population consists of veterans and servicemen and their families...our national policy toward veterans concerns every citizen."

As a result, he added,

"The present practice of assisting the veteran in his immediate readjustment to civil life is much more effective. A veteran now receives help when he needs it most."

Just as in 1956, the VA regional headquarters, located at 245 W. Houston St. in Manhattan, is supposed to accomplish its stated mission to:

"...provide benefits and services to veterans and their dependents in an accurate and timely manner which our customers recognize as compassionate and responsive."

And yet according to Michael Walcoff, the VA's deputy undersecretary of benefits, in processing veterans' disability claims, New York's Regional office is the second slowest in the nation out of 57 offices.

Far worse than the utterly unacceptable inefficiency that forces veterans to wait from many months to years for badly needed disability benefits is the deplorable and unthinkable corruption that wounds our nation's heroes when they deserve to be honored and cared for because of the blood, sweat, and tears begotten through service and sacrifice borne in old and new wars.

In November 2008, Mr. Joseph Collorafi, division chief of the NY VA Regional Office, was suspended when an investigation revealed misconduct and mishandling of veterans' cases.

At the time, VA spokeswoman Alison Aikele, told the Albany Times-Union an "initial investigation revealed that someone in the regional office intentionally entered veterans' claim documents with incorrect dates -- called 'backdating' -- into an internal database."

More internal audits followed, revealing over half of all disability claims processed through the New York office had been illegally tampered with. Auditors also found New York's VA had ignored significant amounts" of its mail.

Some of New York's elected leaders have made public statements about the situation.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) said, "The reports of date changing and document shredding at the N.Y. regional VA office are unacceptable and insulting to those who served our country."

And, in a letter sent last month to out-going Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake, Sen. Hillary Clinton wrote, "It is my understanding that several employees confessed that they were instructed by their supervisors to enter incorrect dates on the claims in an attempt to manipulate processing times. These allegations, if proven, must be corrected as quickly and responsibly as possible."

But for the most part our leaders have remained silent.

"Mayor Bloomberg has not focused on veterans' issues," notes Paul Reichkhoff, the Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) "He's been invisible and yet he really could have used his influence to help veterans."

To date, no Congressional hearings have been held. City leaders pass the buck to the feds, who pass it on to the very VA bureaucrats who stand accused of manipulating and destroying our wounded veterans' documents.

The New York VA's Director, Patricia Amberg-Blyskal, and her subordinates have been transferred but have not been fired and no criminal charges have been brought in either federal or state court. Wounded veterans continue to wait months or years to learn if they qualify for a disability check - with the national waiting list over 600,000 names long.

This is a scandal that calls for outrage, action, and justice -- not continued silence from our election officials and obfuscation from the VA.