RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is seeking a criminal investigation after applications for veterans’ benefits were found in a storage unit belonging to a former state employee who was fired last year for mishandling records, officials said Friday.
Between 20 and 30 boxes of documents were recovered from the unit belonging to the ex-employee for the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, who helped veterans apply for benefits with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said Tom Herthel, director of benefits for the Virginia department. The storage unit contained applications for VA benefits — which include medical and personnel records — and Herthel said it appears that at least some of the applications were never actually filed.
“I am deeply concerned about the veterans whose records have been mishandled, and I have directed my team to use all available resources to identify these men and women and ensure that they receive the benefits and care that they are due,” Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs John Harvey said in a statement.
Herthel said he could not release the name of the former employee, who worked for the agency’s veterans benefits office at the Richmond’s McGuire VA Medical Center. She was fired after working nearly four years in the department when unfiled claims were found in her office in 2015, Herthel said.
Officials say they’re still trying to determine how many veterans may have been affected. The Virginia Department of Veterans Services has since moved to an electronic claims filing system, which means they can track all records to ensure they are actually filed.
Michael Kelly, a spokesman for the attorney general, said Herring has asked Virginia State Police to open a criminal investigation into the matter. Corrinne Geller, a state police spokeswoman, said Friday that they are reviewing the request.
The documents were found when the former employee’s storage unit was seized for nonpayment. The stuff in the storage unit was auctioned off and the person who bought it found the records and immediately notified law enforcement, Herthel said.
In 2014, scandals over long wait times at the VA led to the ouster of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and a $16 billion law overhauling the labyrinthine veterans health care system and making it easier to fire VA employees accused of wrongdoing.
Officials found workers at a Phoenix VA hospital falsified waiting lists while their supervisors looked the other way or even directed it, resulting in chronic delays for veterans seeking care. Similar problems were soon discovered nationwide.
Follow Alanna Durkin Richer on Twitter at twitter.com/aedurkinricher. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/alanna-durkin-richer.