The Department of Veterans Affairs announced late last week that it’s launching a “Seek to Prevent Fraud, Waste and Abuse (STOP FWA)” initiative.
The initiative’s mission is described as capitalizing “on existing departmental activities that prevent or identify FWA, as well as ensure a consistent approach to FWA risk management as a way to centralize organizational resources.”
We commend the VA for acknowledging this problem because fraud, waste, and abuse is so rampant, but it remains to be seen just how effective this initiative will be. Although it’s positive the VA is being open, change in behavior and performance will ultimately be a better strategy to cut down on fraud, waste, and abuse. This is now extremely difficult as it’s nearly impossible for VA employees to be held accountable for their actions, no matter how egregious they are.
During a recent VA financial management hearing, Beryl Davis, Director of Financial Management and Assurance for the GAO, testified that the VA had $5.5 billion in improper payments. Moreover, two programs in the VA had the highest improper payment error rates in the entire government. She went on to say a 2016 VA report said the root cause of two-thirds of the improper payments were due to program design or structural issues. This is just one example of how difficult it will be to cut back on waste by building on “existing departmental activities.” If the existing programs and activities are already ineffective, then it will be a waste of resources to try and build on these.
Another example of drug fraud at the VA shows this initiative may fall short without accountability. A report of criminal investigations into dozens of VA facilities throughout the country for employees stealing drug illuminates the potential shortcomings of the initiative. The AP writes that the VA:
“attributes many drug loss cases to reasons other than employee theft. But the DEA says some of those cases may be wrongly classified. ‘Inventories are always an issue as to who’s watching or checking it,’ said Tom Prevonznik, a DEA deputy chief of pharmaceutical investigations. ‘What are the employees doing, and who’s watching them?’”
Time and time again cases of waste, fraud, and abuse in the VA come out. But, this will probably not change by building on internal processes alone. We will monitor the success of this new initiative.
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