- Jeremy Schwartz American-Statesman Staff
U.S. Rep. John Carter sent a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Director David Shulkin on Monday demanding answers regarding findings of abuse of veterans, equipment theft, abuse of power and possible financial crimes at the VA’s Temple campus.
On Sunday, the American-Statesman detailed the results of an internal investigation into issues with the Temple VA’s motor pool and grounds crew, as investigators reported years of mistreatment of veterans undergoing substance abuse treatment, as well a “complex scheme” to profit from fraudulent purchase orders and questionable contracts.
Veterans in the VA’s Compensated Work Therapy program described being sent to the homes of high-ranking VA officials to perform landscaping work. They also reported being forced to do odd jobs for supervisors and members of their family on the Temple campus, such as car washing and auto repair, during work hours.
According to an administrative board’s preliminary report, which was obtained by the Statesman, employees at the motor pool had funneled business to a small Killeen firm that investigators said made at least $400,000 by padding purchases with 30 percent surcharges. In all, the report found, more than $1.3 million was “funneled through” the business, Whitetail Industrial Parts and Service, in recent years.
Phone and Facebook messages sent to Whitetail owner Jeff Pearson were not returned.
“I am shocked, outraged, and exasperated to hear of these issues, and I expect the VA to work quickly to right the wrongs done to our heroes,” Carter, a Round Rock Republican who represents the Temple area, wrote in a letter to VA Director David Shulkin and VA Inspector General Michael Missal. “According to media reports, many of the veterans that were subjected to this behavior were participating in a substance abuse rehabilitation program, and trying their best to get their lives back on track, only to be mistreated by the very people meant to help them. It is inexcusable.”
Carter demanded the VA send him a copy of a “comprehensive final report” on the situation in Temple promptly, as well as a full briefing on “the VA’s plan of action to right the wrongs done to our veterans.”
Carter also praised the actions of newly appointed Central Texas top administrator Christopher Sandles, who launched the internal investigation shortly after hearing of complaints at the motor pool earlier this year.
“However, I must express my exasperation and outrage at the continuing problems plaguing our VA system, especially as it pertains to serving the veterans of the Central Texas area,” Carter wrote.
Two Temple VA employees no longer work at the VA after the internal investigation and local officials say the VA’s inspector general is investigating allegations involving financial misdeeds that could result in criminal charges.
One VA employee, Oarrin Nash, the motor pool supervisor, has confirmed in an interview with the Statesman that he was fired. Nash denied any wrongdoing and said he had no knowledge of financial activities regarding Whitetail.