October 19, 2015

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt Shaft
I haven’t heard much lately about construction on the VA medical center in Denver.  Do you know what the status of this facility?

George R
Via the internet

Dear George
I know the Congress has had their eye on this situation for some time now and Chairman Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs recently released the following statement regarding Senate passage of legislation to authorize completion of the Denver VA Medical Center.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs’ replacement hospital in Denver has become the biggest construction failure in VA history, ballooning from $328 million to $1.675 billion. The bill passed today in the Senate presumes $200 million of VA’s proposed $625 million in offsets are acceptable – offsets paid for through cuts to medical services and delayed facility costs that will simply be requested next year. These cuts would only serve to punish our Nation’s veterans and taxpayers for VA’s incompetence. The bill also fails to address the lack of accountability that has plagued the department for years. The executives responsible for this disaster collected massive bonuses as project costs skyrocketed and delays stretched on for years. Yet instead of being fired, they have retired with full benefits.

The House will consider a separate measure to authorize funding for the replacement hospital which would include meaningful offsets and accountability measures completely absent in the Senate-passed bill. The solution I have introduced will cap VA bonuses, diverting $200 million to fix the mess the department created. It will also permit the VA Secretary to recoup the wholly unwarranted bonuses that VA has become known for and will permit VA to recoup pension benefits from employees convicted of felonies related to their duties.

“Congress will not allow the Denver hospital to remain unfinished, but we must find a way forward that assures American veterans and America’s taxpayers are not left holding the bag. The Senate bill assures neither.”


Shaft Notes
U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), a retired Navy captain and former naval flight officer, has urged Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald to investigate allegations that a number of questionable, unaccredited educational institutions have received G.I. Bill benefits, despite federal regulations to prevent it.

Following yet another shocking report by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting, Senator Carper was joined by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in sending a letter to Secretary McDonald asking him to address the issue.

“The report documents a number of educationally questionable, and in some instances morally repugnant, institutions that have inexplicably received VA education benefits.  These include an unlicensed massage therapy school, an institute whose parent organization is a listed hate group, and an institute on human sexuality claiming to be in possession of child pornography. If true, this is a terrible failure of our promise to veterans and taxpayers,” the Senators wrote.

“The VA is charged with protecting our veterans from unscrupulous entities by enforcing federal regulations allowing only those institutions whose instruction is ‘consistent in quality, content, and length’ with accredited institutions. VA’s enforcement and oversight is critical given over 2,000 unaccredited institutions have reportedly received more than $260 million in G.I. Bill benefits between 2009 and 2014.”

The following is the Full text of his letter to the Secretary:

July 17, 2015

Secretary Robert A. McDonald U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C.  20420

Dear Secretary McDonald:

We are writing to bring to your attention allegations that a number of questionable unaccredited educational institutions have received G.I. Bill benefits despite federal regulations to prevent it, according to a report this week from the Center for Investigative Reporting.  We urge you to investigate these claims swiftly and to increase the Department of Veterans Affairs’ enforcement of its protections for veterans’ education benefits.

Federal law permits unaccredited educational institutions to receive Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits in limited circumstances to ensure veterans can access professional and trade school expertise.  The VA is charged with protecting our veterans from unscrupulous entities by enforcing federal regulations allowing only those institutions whose instruction is “consistent in quality, content, and length” with accredited institutions.  VA’s enforcement and oversight is critical given over 2,000 unaccredited institutions have reportedly received more than $260 million in G.I. Bill benefits between 2009 and 2014.

The report documents a number of educationally questionable, and in some instances morally repugnant, institutions that have inexplicably received VA education benefits.  These include an unlicensed massage therapy school, an institute whose parent organization is a listed hate group, and an institute on human sexuality claiming to be in possession of child pornography.  If true, this is a terrible failure of our promise to veterans and taxpayers.  We urge you to immediately and thoroughly investigate these allegations, and step up the VA’s enforcement of its regulations in partnership with state approving agencies.

 

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