Investigators are reviewing surprise inspections at Veteran Affairs Regional Offices across the country to determine whether wrongly discarded claims forms found in Los Angeles earlier this year are an isolated incident or signs of broader, systemic mistakes.
The VA Inspector General's office announced the move as part of its interim report on the February incident in Los Angeles, when paperwork required to finalize veterans' disability claims was found in a shredding bin instead.
Only nine documents were found misplaced in the shredding piles, but investigators noted they could not determine if more paperwork had been was incorrectly destroyed because of record-keeping issues at the facility.
VA officials have said the mistakes were found before final reviews of the documents had been were conducted, noting that would likely have prevented the paperwork from being destroyed. They previously downplayed the problem as a one-time mistake from a small number of workers who had no "malicious intent."
But investigators noted the lack of proper training and paperwork review techniques, and questioned that assessment.
"Because the Los Angeles (staff) did not consistently follow (Veterans Benefits Administration) controls, it is likely that staff would have inappropriately destroyed the nine claims-related documents we found," the IG report said.
The report recommends that officials at the Los Angeles facility create a new training plan for staffers charged with safeguarding the documents, and take actions against employees at fault for the mistakes uncovered.
In a statement, Deputy Inspector General Linda Halliday said the improper shredding, "no matter how small, has to be completely eradicated if the department hopes to regain veterans' trust, as this causes excessive delays and can result in incorrect decisions to veterans attempting to obtain benefits."
The IG also promised to offer additional recommendations once inspections at 10 other regional offices are complete, in an effort to see whether the shredding problems are widespread. The inspections were held in July.
Investigators said they found no evidence that supervisors instructed staff to shred claims-related mail, as alleged by some office employees.
California Democratic Reps. Julia Brownley and Raul Ruiz already have called for congressional hearings and an immediate review of how the Los Angeles facility handles documents.
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.