One day after an audit blasted the Veteran's Affairs office in St. Petersburg for allegedly leaving veterans' personal information vulnerable to identity theft, elected officials from Florida called on the department's top official in Washington to remedy the problem.
In a letter sent Thursday to Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said the issue of privacy at the VA has "tormented many of my friends and neighbors in Tampa Bay."
"I have heard stories of sloppy record keeping at this office for many years and the (inspector general) report bears this out," the Tampa Democrat wrote. "This is unacceptable and must be addressed immediately."
Her letter also referenced a recent report by ProPublica that found more than 10,000 privacy violations at VA medical centers, clinics and pharmacies across the country since 2011.
"It is clear that additional reforms are needed at the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure our veterans' records are treated with respect and that our veterans receive the care they were promised and earned," Castor wrote. "As we have seen all too often recently, the VA has not met its responsibility to our veterans on a number of fronts."
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican running for president, raised concerns about another finding in the inspector general's report: a backlog of more than 41,900 mail packages containing unprocessed veterans' claims materials at the St. Petersburg office. "The thousands of backlogged claims at the St. Petersburg VA is outrageous and intolerable," Rubio said in a statement. "I hear every day from veterans who will wait years for a decision from the VA on their medical conditions, with the average appeal time being over 31/2 years. This is just another example of the lack of transparency and broken bureaucracy found at the VA."
Responding to the inspector general's findings, VA officials said the records had been kept secure and under video surveillance. The department also issued a statement saying the St. Petersburg office had made "marked improvements" in the processing of mail.
Contact Kathleen McGrory at [email protected] or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.