Gambling addicts, psychiatric cases and convicted criminals are among the thieves who have been handed control of disabled veterans’ finances by the Veterans Affairs Department, a Hearst Newspapers investigation has found.
For decades, theft and fraud have plagued the fiduciary program, in which the VA appoints a family member or a stranger to manage money for veterans whom the government considers incapacitated. The magnitude and pace of those thefts have increased, despite VA promises of reform. Three of the largest scams — ranging from about $900,000 to $2 million — each persisted for 10 years or more before being discovered.
In the past six years, the VA has removed 467 fiduciaries for misuse of money, but only a fraction have faced criminal charges, a Hearst analysis of data from the VA’s Office of the Inspector General shows.
The government has never adequately tracked fiduciaries’ thefts from brain-damaged or memory-impaired veterans. The inspector general’s office says it conducted 315 fiduciary fraud investigations from October 1998 to March 2010, resulting in 132 arrests for thefts amounting to $7.4 million.
But a Hearst analysis of court records and documents obtained by freedom of information requests shows that the thieves’ take since 1998 is more than $14.7 million — nearly twice the amount reported to Congress.
VA spokesman Joshua Taylor says the program is being reorganized and that improvements are being ordered every year.