Topics: Veterans Affairs

Second VA executive leaves abruptly as claims backlog grows

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News,Watchdog,Mark Flatten,Veterans Affairs

Another top official responsible for breaking the backlog of disability and pension claims has left the Department of Veterans Affairs, The Washington Examiner has learned.

Michael Cardarelli, the principle deputy undersecretary for benefits at VA, no longer works for the agency, the receptionist answering his former office telephone said when contacted today.

A VA spokesman confirmed that Cardarelli is no longer with VA, but said his opting to leave was a "personal decision."

Congressional sources and representatives of veterans groups told The Washington Examiner they had not been notified of his departure.

Cardarelli could not be reached for comment. He was the second-in-command at the Veterans Benefits Administration, which is under intense scrutiny from Congress, veterans' organizations and the news media for the long-standing backlog of claims. More than a million veterans have cases pending at VA, 70 percent of which have lingered more than 125 days.

Many of the veterans who filed those cases will wait more than a year to get an initial decision on whether they can receive compensation for medical conditions or injuries connected to their military service.

Last month, Roger Baker, the head of the VA's computer department, announced his resignation. Baker's department is responsible for implementation of the Veterans' Benefits Management System.

The VBMS is a new computer network that will allow disability claims to be processed electronically rather than with paper files. About 20 of VA's 57 regional offices are using the $537 million VBMS, with the rest slated to be on line by the end of the year.

The House Committee on Veterans' Affairs today will grill Allison Hickey, undersecretary of benefits at VA, about the failure to reduce the number of backlogged cases and the long waits veterans face in having their claims processed.

Hickey refused last week to respond directly during a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing to requests for internal documents tracking the department's performance in reducing claims processing times.

Earlier this year, The Washington Examiner published a multi-part series entitled "Making America's Heroes Wait" that exposed ways agency employees manipulate internal data to make it appear more claims are being processed faster and more accurately than is actually the case.

Mark Flatten is a member of The Washington Examiner's Watchdog investigative reporting team. He can be reached at mflatten@washingtonexaminer.com.

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