Last week, U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick released a statement regarding reports of a new incentive program at the Philadelphia Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office that he believes could encourage staff to rush or improperly reject claims for veterans. Reports show that leaders at the office have begun a program to reward employees for quickly processing veteran benefit claims in order to meet the VA’s backlog deadline.
VA whistleblowers have already testified that this arbitrary deadline is unrealistic, uses uncertain metrics to measure success and has the potential to breed corruption.
“How would adding cash and food incentives help meet the real goal: doing right by our veterans?” Fitzpatrick asked. “This program — while I’m sure well intentioned — does little to ensure that claims for military veterans are being handled thoroughly and effectively while leaving the door open to data manipulation, ‘cherry picking’ of easy claims or inaccurate decisions. Bonuses and incentives should be for employees going above and beyond in the service of veterans each day, not meeting bureaucratic benchmarks within a system that has failed before.”
Fitzpatrick, a Republican, is serving his fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He represents Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District, which includes all of Bucks County as well as a portion of Montgomery County.
Fitzpatrick, a member of the Military Mental Health Caucus, supported House passage of the Clay Hunt SAV Act, legislation he co-sponsored to address the epidemic of veteran suicide.
“As new generations of soldiers return home from the battlefield, far too many find the transition to civilian life and the challenge of dealing with the effects of PTSD too hard. Sadly, each day, 22 American veterans take their own life — a national problem not short of an epidemic,” he said.
The bill is named after Clay Hunt, a Marine who took his own life at the age of just 28. This legislation calls for increasing access to, boosting accountability for and removing the stigma of potentially life-saving mental health care.
“The Senate and president must act on the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act and put an end to the epidemic of veteran suicide,” Fitzpatrick said.
The Clay Hunt SAV Act passed the House with Fitzpatrick’s support in the 113th Congress before failing in the Senate. The Senate is expected to again take up the legislation.
Last week, Fitzpatrick sent a letter to President Obama, calling on him to follow congressional directive and award victims of the 2009 Fort Hood terror attack posthumous military honors.
Nidal Malik Hasan sent a series of communications to the radical al-Qaeda-linked cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, saying he’d kill as many American service members as he could. On Nov. 5, 2009, Hasan killed 13 and wounded 32 others during a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas.
“There is no doubt that Hasan is a traitor and enemy of the United States; he has been sentenced to death for his brutal attack,” Fitzpatrick wrote. “But the service members and families have been waiting for over five years for what is owed to them. They should not have to wait any longer. I urge your administration to quickly implement the provisions of the new law and appropriately honor the fallen and wounded heroes of Fort Hood.”
As part of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015, passed by Congress and signed into law on Dec. 19, 2014, service members and civilians killed or wounded in the attack are considered eligible for the Purple Heart and Medal for the Defense of Freedom.