Washington —The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is asking the Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation into the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) efforts to use funds appropriated for the Veterans Health Administration to pay for the conduct of expensive outsourcing studies that set the stage for the elimination of federal jobs.
In a letter sent today to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, AFGE National President John Gage asked for “an immediate criminal investigation of current management at the VA” for violations of 38 U.S.C. 8110 (a)(5) and the Anti-Deficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. 1341(a), laws that prohibit the diversion of appropriated health care dollars to pay for outsourcing studies.
“For over 20 years, Congress and administrations of both political parties have honored the law and worked to improve health care delivery in a bi-partisan fashion,” said Gage in the letter to Attorney General Gonzales. “Sadly, this no longer appears to be the case.”
AFGE has made previous attempts to alert the VA of the violations. In July 2003, AFGE officials sent a formal Cease and Desist letter to Former VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi informing him that the VA’s actions were against the law. In November 2003, after learning that the VA management was once again using scarce health care appropriated funds to illegally perform outsourcing studies, AFGE again contacted VA officials and requested that they cease and desist from their illegal activities.
The VA’s actions have also caught the attention of the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO). Late last month, GAO issued the results of an investigation that verified the VA’s illegal use of funds appropriated for veterans’ healthcare. Despite these findings, and the AFGE Cease and Desist letters, the VA has denied any wrongdoing and has indicated it will continue with its illegal use of appropriated health care dollars to fund outsourcing studies
“Since AFGE has previously given notice to the VA about the illegal use of appropriated funds and now that GAO has investigated and verified the illegality,” said Gage in the AFGE letter to Attorney General Gonzales. “...We believe that only a proper and thorough criminal investigation and appropriate prosecution will deter VA management from continuing its violation of the law.”
To protect federal dollars earmarked for healthcare, Congress enacted 38 U.S.C. 8110 (a)(5), a 24-year-old safeguard that protects funds appropriated for veterans’ healthcare from being spent improperly. In addition to violating 38 U.S.C. 8110 (a)(5), the union also says the VA is in violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. 1341 (a) a law which makes it illegal for an “officer or employee of the United States Government” to “make or authorize an expenditure or obligation exceeding an amount available in an appropriation or fund for the expenditure of obligation…”.
“As a result of chronic understaffing and underfunding issues, the VA has to deny thousands of veterans the healthcare they were promised when they put their lives on the line for this country,” said Gage. “Earlier this summer we learned that the VA faced a $3 billion shortfall because of inexplicable miscalculations. To divert health care dollars to pay for outsourcing studies when the VA faces a budget crisis is criminal at best.”