Auditor Takes California Veterans Agency to Task

SACRAMENTO (CN) – California’s Department of Veterans Affairs ignored the state auditor’s recommendations and continues to overlook feedback from veterans who seek benefits, the auditor claims in a new report.
     In a report issued July 7, State Auditor Elaine Howle criticized the California VA for failing to fully implement a single recommendation from the original audit of 2009. The new audit says the VA fails to enroll and market its services to veterans or monitor budgets of County Veterans Service Officer programs.
     Howle said the percentage of state veterans applying for VA services is below the national average and blasted the VA for not using readily available information from its myCalVet website.
     The myCalVet website, introduced in 2014, tracks the location and age of veterans who seek information about federal and state benefits.
     Howle said the state VA has no plan in place to evaluate and use the data collected on the myCalVet website.
     “Without such an analysis, Veterans Services cannot identify the most effective processes for getting veterans registered with myCalVet and better connect them with the services they need,” Howle said in the 22-page audit.
     In a response letter, the VA said that while the website has registered just 26,000 veterans, it has been viewed by more than 780,000 users.
     The VA said it generally agrees with the audit, but that there are other sources of feedback to consider.
     “(G)iven there are more than 1.8 million veterans in the state, it is important to recognize that information pulled from 26,000 users is only a small piece of the representative populations and statewide outreach efforts should include the use of additional data, tools and strategies,” acting VA Secretary Debbie Endsley wrote.
     The VA and the military need to improve the way they discuss and inform veterans of benefits to its veterans, said Tim Lawson, a Marine veteran and the founder of the 1, 2 Many: Veteran Suicide website .
     “The military is slowly getting better, but it has a lot of work to do during a service member’s separation to communicate what they are entitled to and what services they can take advantage of,” Lawson said.
     Lawson said many veterans are not aware of available benefits and programs until years after they leave the military, and often find out about them from friends.
     Veterans who have been through the process told Courthouse News that dealing with the VA can be harrowing and frustrating. Often, a veteran who has conquered the system helps a fellow veteran, on the condition that he or she use the knowledge to help another vet.
     California has more veterans than any other state: about 8 percent of the total. Los Angeles and San Diego counties have the greatest numbers of veterans.
     More than 12,000 California veterans are homeless according to VA data .
     As the veteran population increases, California and other states are struggling to find ways to fund the embattled health care system. The U.S. Veterans Affairs Department said in June that it’s facing a $2.5 billion deficit due to increased health care costs and asked Congress for additional funding.
     Howle derided the VA for failing to audit its own counties and verify that they are being reimbursed correctly.
     “Veterans Services is not adequately ensuring that the funding it distributes to the (counties) is consistent with their actual workloads,” the report states.
     The audit recommends that the VA fully implement the suggestions from the 2009 audit, and develop a plan to analyze data from its website and enhance its marketing and outreach to veterans.

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