VA whistleblowers Rustyann Brown from Oakland, Kristen Ruell and Diana Blender from Philadelphia, and Joseph Malizia, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 940, were in Washington D.C. giving testimony to the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs. The VA has been involved in scandals involving secret waiting lists, data manipulation, over paying claims, and neglecting thousands of claims.
Things took a strange twist into the esoteric when one witness at the hearing reported Gary Hodge, head of the Philadelphia office’s pension management center, had a mandatory June 2014 dinner party. At this party his wife, Loretta, “offered her services to attendees to share messages she received from their deceased loved ones.” Apparently, Mrs. Hodge is “a medium.” According to testimony, employees were required to pay $30 for the “message” from dead relatives.
Lucy Filipov, assistant director of VA’s Philadelphia Regional Office, and the owner of the the house that served as the location for the coercive divination, stated she was prohibited by the Inspector General to discuss the event as it is still a matter of investigation. Truth is stranger than fiction.
Whistleblower, Kristen Ruell denied attending the dinner but heard several employees discussing it later. Employees who paid “for Mr. Hodge’s wife to give them a fortune-telling experience” were under his supervision at the time. “They were pension center employees that were under Gary Hodge,” declared Ms. Ruell.
Mr. Hodge was transferred from Philadelphia to an assignment in Washington. Allison Hickey, undersecretary for benefits, declined to state whether or not the move was a promotion.
Many disheartening facts were brought out during the hearing. One outrageous revelation was a $288,000 “relocation” payment to Diana Rubens to move 140 miles from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia in June, 2014. Rubens was appointed director of the Philadelphia VA center.
I could not believe my ears. I was already furious as the testimony was being presented.
Rustyann Brown from the Oakland VA told the committee when she discovered a deceased veteran’s claim among the 13,000 unanswered claims, dating back over 20 years, it was to be filed as NAN. No action necessary. Apparently, as far as the VA is concerned, when you are deceased, you go from ignored to disregarded. Due to the NAN, the spouse is unable to receive benefits. This behavior is repugnant.
“If the widow ever came in to file a claim … there’s nothing there,” Rustyann said. “There’s no information about her husband. On a daily basis, we were seeing piles of [claims] set aside. It was our obligation to contact that family. We didn’t do that. We should have.”
The testimony presented today should shock and upset everybody into action. VA employees that have more information need to speak out. Now is an excellent time to defend the veterans that defended our nation. After all, they held up their end of the deal.