Why Won’t VA Track Its Government Contractors?

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GI Bill Contractors

At double previous estimates, the price of the new Post 9/11 GI Bill software platform will cost American taxpayers big time.

It will cost Americans in lost revenue. It will cost veterans in lost benefits. It will cost everyone in a further loss of confidence in our elected officials and in the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

Initially, Congress was not warm to the idea of developing a new software platform for the processing of the new GI Bill claims. Many Congressman asked, “Why, the old one works, right?”

To this, Dept. of Veterans Affairs said that a new platform would really benefit veterans using the GI Bill by increasing processing speeds. The also said it would only cost around $130 million.

That was 5 year ago. So far, VA has yet to deliver.

This past February, Roger Baker, VA CIO, had to sit before Congress to explain why the GI Bill platform does not fully work yet and why it was over budget.

After 5 years, the GI Bill software platform cannot fully process even half of the Post 9/11 GI Bill claims. To make matters worse, it is not complete and has already cost taxpayers over $263, more than double the initial estimate from VA.

Improvements to the plan are on hold for 2013 while the Veterans Benefits Administration is busy chasing its tail while working on paperless disability claims.

Oh, and let’s not forget the electronic medical record debacle. VA and DoD have collectively spend $1 billion of the $4 billion budget, only to learn that the agencies need more data to continue. They had yet to develop a strategic plan after spending $1 billion on planning and government contractors.

That is the background to this post.

After watching Roger Baker testify to Congress, I decided to find out for myself what in the hell is going on. So, like any good Samaritan, I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the VA Central Office.

Here is what I found out yesterday after VA called me.

VA still does not have a list of government contractors who work on the GI Bill software program. There is no document that contains all the names of the government contractors who have overbilled American taxpayers by more than double.

Does this seem odd to you?

Just one month after a Congressional investigation by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, the VA has yet to compile a simple list of the government contractors and subcontractors.

To make matters worse, the FOIA official who contacted me did not even know what I was talking about in my FOIA request – “list of GI Bill contractors? Why would we have that?”

Instead, he sent me an email link about the paperless medical record DoD/VA debacle. Way to go. Equally as bad, but that’s for a totally different part of the VA.

The problem is really with the VA and how it fails to manage its government contracting operation.

Six months ago, I asked for a contract on a company called Affiliated Computer Services. Affiliated Computer Services failed to have its contract renewed. The contract was for the VBMAPP program, which relates to the whole “going paperless” process.

Affiliated received a $50 million contract to process many of the new disability claims coming in the door. For undisclosed reasons, VA refused to renew the company’s contract after one year.

When I asked VA’s FOIA office if they had a list of all contracts Affiliated was involved with, they said “no.” When I asked for the list VA keeps of all contractors that could be considered “bad contractors,” the FOIA office told me they do not have to make records for things they do not already track.

In September 2012, W. Scott Gould told Congress that they do have a list of bad contractors, well, kind of. His statement was more of a spin, so it was hard to tell exactly what he was saying to Congressman Marlin Stutzman. Let’s suffice it to say that Scott Gould at least implied such a list does exist.

Now, my FOIA request was in November 2012. Here is what the VA FOIA officer told me. He said that, because they do not already have such a list, that he is not required to make one for me. And then he got off the phone.

Keep in mind, I was asking for exactly what Congressman Stutzman was told existed two months earlier.

Interesting, right? The VA has no list of contractors who do not perform within the specifications of their contracts.

So, it should go as no surprise that the VA would not have a list of government contractors who have overbilled and under delivered the new Post 9/11 GI Bill software system.

I guess when it comes to veterans’ claims for benefits, the VA does not need to waste its time tracking things like company names and bad performance.

Next election cycle, I think it is time as Americans that we move away from our dual political systems. Both the Bushites and the Obamacrats have failed veterans.

I think it’s time that we grow up, and set up a part of only veterans for political office that will actually take action for the people and the Constitution we all swore to uphold and protect.

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My Post 9/11 GI Bill FOIA Request

For those curious about what a FOIA looks like, and curious to see VA’s initial response back to me, I have included the emails below. Use this as a template if you like.

VA’s response to me had nothing to do with my request. I even included a link to the Congressional hearing I had referenced, so that they would know exactly what I was talking about.

Instead, they sent a link to the electronic health care records program that is not defunct. I have no idea how they could get these confused. Maybe there are just too many zeros once a program eclipses $100,000,000.

 

Here is my FOIA request to VA:

Mr. [blank],

I hope you are doing well. As a journalist, I would like to make a Freedom of Information Act request for the following information.

1) The list VA maintains of the primary Contractors who were part of the $263 million GI Bill software platform initiative.

2) The list of approved subcontractors who worked on the same program.

This is a link to particulars of the program referenced during a Congressional subcommittee hearing that should help you identify my request:

https://democrats.veterans.house.gov/press-release/subcommittee-examines-post-911-gi-bill-claims-processing

Thank you,

Benjamin Krause

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Here is VA’s response:

Mr. Krause-

I’m unclear about your request.  Are you looking for a specific contract title?

Here’s the most recent news available regarding the software platform initiative. https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/dod-va-expedite-iehr-rollout

Please let me know in greater detail what exactly you’re looking for.

Regards,

VA FOIA Guy

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6 Comments

  1. It’s all the same news.We ask they don’t know.Same as we are on tract for 2015.Sure we are. Does any one know what 2015 is,This term is over the door is open and we are out of here.Now we can try to blame some one else and the game is on.One thing we never learn from history is,we neve learn from history.

  2. I agree that we should vote vets into office! Plus we should vote out some of the “veteran” politicians that have been in office so long that they have turned away from helping vets and are actually actively working against any program or extra money that will help veterans (like McCain).

    • McCain was for demolishing the entire VA Healthcare system and starting over because the VA has totally let down just about every single US veteran in one way or another. List specifics regarding McCain not supporting veterans. I would love to know.

  3. Benjamin:

    I can maybe help a little on your specific inquiry about ACS. ACS was acquired by Xerox in 2009, and no longer exists as a separate entity. I know this only because I did some temp work for them last year during Med D open enrollment. Although Xerox obtained them nearly 4 years ago, they have not bothered to remove the ACS logo from most of their paperwork or proprietary computer systems.

    This type of half-assed attention to such matters is indicative of how they do business. They shake-and-bake train their people, then throw them to the wolves by putting them on the phones with only a rudimentary understanding of what the hell they’re doing.

    In short, these are exactly the type of people I expect the VA to be doing business with. They have no plan or direction; they just get a contract and fulfill it by hiring a ton of people with no experience and hoping that some of them pick up enough to see them through to the end of the project. They don’t give a rat’s ass about turnover; they just go to the temp agencies for a truckload of new employees. In this economy, there’s no shortage of people who are willing to do this job – for a while!

  4. Ben–I am fully familiar with ACS because they are the entity in which my consolidated college student loans were “serviced by” and when I learned that since I have 100% Service Connected Disability, IU and Perm and Total VA Disability, I applied to have my student loans discharged with them. They were incredibly incompetent and was told wrong forms and info to gather from the VA, then, get this, they refused me two different times because they did not like the freaking “color of blue-black ink” used to fill out their form, which NOWHERE was it noted a stipulation on this, and yet a second time stating the letter from VA was not specific enough!! This wasted well over EIGHT MONTHS, so I actually got an incredibly helpful person on phone at my VA Regional Office and she said ACS KNOWS that they need two different letters from VA; one stating Veteran is P&T Disabled, the other stating Veteran is Individual Unemployability. She said they had to be on VA official Letterhead AND time-stamped with also VA seal on each! I then sent those letters Registered/Certified to ACS, just as I did in course of my successful fight for my VA Disability. This then took several months then one day I got a letter with a check for all payments I had made from point of disability, as I had used all forbearance time while waiting years for Soc Sec SSDI.
    On another note, I never used any VSO for my VA Disability because a forum for Veterans I garnered a lot of self-help in that time told of all the dragging their feet of each VSO so will mention again that I had my State of Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and his office as my “Representative”, and highly suggest other Veterans start putting their Congressional Offices to work for them, regardless of their political affiliation, as it helped me along with fact I had saved copies of all my civilian medical records and had that all important nexus proving Service Connection. It can be done, as am living proof of such but I do acknowledge not all Veterans have civilian Dr’s but it is REALLY important to have your own outside Specialist/Medical records that holds a lot of weight in one’s claim.
    Do know that when having your Student Loans Discharged via ACS or whomever your lender is, it is much easier if those loans are consolidated and KNOW doing so requires 100% P&T with IU, and you will NEVER be eligible for Federal College Loans and you would not think this being the case but having those loans discharged by Dept. of Education, places a HUGE negative on one’s FICA (credit score). I rent and have no plans of buying a house and car is ten year well cared for and paid off, so that has not been a real issue for me.
    Wanted to chime-in about the now-parent company, Xerox, of subsidiary called ACS. Hope this helps others in some way! Having that over forty-six grand student loan monkey off my back has been a huge relief!

  5. The VA Medical Records system was far more complicated in application than dreamed possible, Educating the massive number of personnel transitioning in and out of the agency was a major undertaking. Had it succeeded, it would have been a model for every Medical system in the Nation to standardize coding, billing and other communications. How can Obamacare be implemented without a standardized medical system for the Nation?

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