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House committee complains of lack of transparency at VA

Members of a House committee lambasted the Department of Veterans Affairs Thursday for a lack of transparency and unwillingness to cooperate with Congress.

(Charles Dharapak/AP) - Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters. (Charles Dharapak/AP) – Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters.

Rep. Mike Koffman, (R-Colo.) accused the VA’s office of congressional and legislative affairs of using a veneer of incompetency to mask a “process of systematically covering up information that’s embarrassing to the Veterans Administration.”

“You are not what you appear to be today – a bumbling idiot,” Koffman told Joan M. Mooney, the VA’s assistant secretary for congressional and legislative affairs, during her appearance before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Both Republicans and Democrats complained of slow response for information, noting that the committee has over 70 pending requests to the department, some over a year old.

In her testimony, Mooney noted that her office has dealt with over 80,000 congressional requests since 2009, with VA officials testifying at over 260 congressional hearings, conducting over 2,000 congressional briefings or meetings and responding to over 4,700 questions for the record.

“VA and Congress share the same goal: to do everything we can to improve the health care, benefits and other services delivered to our nation’s veterans, their families, and survivors earned through service,” said Mooney, who worked on Capitol Hill for two decades before taking her position at the VA.

Rep. Jeff Miller, (R-Fla.), the chairman of the committee, said that Mooney’s office had received a 41 percent budget increase and 40 percent increase in staff since 2009.

“That the committee feels compelled to hold this hearing today should send a clear signal that the status quo is not acceptable,” said Rep. Michael Michaud, (D-Maine), the ranking Democrat on the committee.

“High workload is not an excuse for the current situation which has gone on since 2009, and which simply must change,” Michaud added. “If VA needs additional funding for more staff we need to know. ”

In an interview Wednesday, Miller complained that it had taken the VA too long to respond to congressional queries for information about Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis’s interactions with the VA.

“How was he treated, did he miss any appointments?” said Miller. “In 2013, it should be pretty easy to get this information.”

The VA released a statement Wednesday saying that Alexis had sought treatment for insomnia at two VA hospitals in August, but that he had told medical providers that he was not depressed or violent.

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