WASHINGTON — Empower Oversight has obtained documents the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) failed to provide pursuant to an August 2021 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents were included with a notice filed with the court in related litigation and point to knowledge of conflicts of interest at the VA long before the Inspector General (VA-OIG) launched the inquiry that later substantiated whistleblower reports to the office of Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
These new documents suggest that the VA’s searches for responsive documents were inadequate to locate these records demonstrating senior VA officials were aware of the conflicts of interest, yet failed to take any corrective action.
One of the documents Empower Oversight obtained is an affidavit filed in an Equal Employment Opportunity case where, in February 2019, a VA official claims that she was “proven innocent of all allegations” involving her conflict of interest with her husband’s outside activities and that “the issue was never raised again” by her supervisors.
In April 2021, Senator Chuck Grassley wrote to the VA inquiring about the VA’s selective release of information about an enforcement action supported by Veterans Education Success (VES), an organization that was paying the VA official’s husband. The second document Empower Oversight obtained is an unredacted version of draft answers to Grassley, produced in a separate FOIA case.
The version of these draft answers previously provided to Empower Oversight by the VA had been fully redacted, and the VA never transmitted any final version of these answers to Senator Grassley’s office.
“These new documents demonstrate that VA supervisors had early knowledge—long before the OIG investigation—of these conflicts of interest. Yet, the VA failed to mitigate those conflicts and refused to answer congressional oversight questions about those conflicts—even after gathering the information and drafting the answers. Given the VA’s failure to locate and produce these documents to Empower Oversight, its searches pursuant to our FOIA request cannot be trusted,” said Jason Foster, Founder and President of Empower Oversight.
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