In the wake of a series of high-profile criminal medical cases at Veterans Affairs facilities, Department of Justice officials are teaming up with VA’s Inspector General to form a new health care task force aimed at better identifying and deterring the illegal activities.

Officials said they are particularly concerned with a potential increase in fraud crimes involving veterans medical care following the expansion earlier this summer of VA’s community care programs, which allow veterans to seek medical care outside department facilities but at taxpayer expense.

“This Task Force sends a clear message to anyone considering committing health care fraud at VA — We will protect our veterans’ health care system at all costs,” VA Inspector General Michael Missal said in a statement.

The task force is modeled after the Justice Department’s existing “strike force” program, which uses interagency teams of investigators and prosecutors to target areas with high potential for fraud or abuse.

The new task force announcement was accompanied by a list of 13 separate investigations involving crimes against veterans and VA policies in recent months.

They include manslaughter charges against a former Arkansas VA pathologist who falsified records to cover up his on-duty substance abuse problems; a former Massachusetts VA nurse who stole morphine from patients; the owner of a private company in Colorado who paid $1 million in bribes to VA employees for improper work referrals; and a Florida third-party billing company which forged nearly $1 million in claims for VA services.

Under the new task force arrangement, an attorney within the VA Inspector General’s office will be details to serve as a special prosecutor within the Justice Department’s Health Care Fraud Unit.

Work done by the group will also coordinate with the existing Justice medicare fraud strike force, which has filed charges against more than 4,200 individuals since 2007.

VA operates more than 1,200 medical facilities nationwide, serving about 9 million veterans. The department’s budget has risen steadily over the last 17 years, to nearly $200 billion in fiscal 2019.

More details on the new task force are available on the VA Inspector General’s web site.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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