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ALBANY, N.Y. A federal program that's supposed to provide guardians to safely handle the finances of veterans who aren't mentally equipped to do it themselves is under fire after a critical audit.
The inspector general of the Veterans Affairs Department found last year that the program had "significant weaknesses" and needs to be changed. The program assigns relatives, friends and associates to oversee the finances of mentally disabled or elderly veterans.
Now Sen. Charles Schumer of New York is accusing the VA of "needless foot-dragging" to enact reforms.
"The VA fiduciary system, in which a third party is appointed to manage and protect the finances of elderly or mentally disabled veterans, lacks sufficient oversight, and is full of bad actors, needless delays, fraud and theft," Schumer said. "With more and more veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, there will only be more individuals in need of reliable financial protection."
The VA should finalize new regulations and begin enacting them immediately, Schumer said.
He also wants the VA to impose stricter qualifications for the VA fiduciaries, including background checks, and wants the program better explained to veterans' families.
The inspector general's report stated that in several test cases the VA failed to perform protection measures and failed to adequately train staff. The report stated $25.7 million in payments to veterans could be compromised and that $128.5 million in veteran benefits to be paid out over the five years are at risk without reforms.
The VA didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Friday and Monday.