Veterans Call for Resignation of VA Leadership
By Staff Writer: Rick Townsend
June 2, 2006
Vietnam combat veterans and well known veterans’ rights advocates, Gene Simes and Jere Beery have added their names to the growing number of veterans demanding the resignation of Jim Nicholson, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Last week, during an emergency Senate hearing, Secretary Nicholson testified that some 26.5 million veterans’ personal data had been stolen from a VA employee’s home on May 3, 2006. The personal and classified information was contained on a laptop computer that was stolen from the VA employee’s home. The stolen data encompasses all veterans that have ever filed a VA claim, or served in the U.S. military for 180 days after 1975. The computer files contained full names, Social Security numbers, and date of birth, addresses, phone numbers and disability ratings. Experts describe the incident as a major breach in national security which the full impact of the loss is yet to be felt.
Long time veteran’s rights advocate, Jere Beery points out that this is just the latest in a series of blunders made by the VA.
In October of 2005, Atlanta Georgia, the government filed fraud charges against 12 people in the theft of almost $11 million from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. One of the twelve, Sarah Prater, was a former VA supervisor accused of using her security clearance to alter records of dead veterans with no beneficiaries in order to funnel illegal benefits to herself and other defendants.
Later in 2005, the VA publicly admitted they made a one billion dollar mistake in their proposed 2005 budget. John Furgess, the commander-in-chief of the 2.4 million-member VFW and its Auxiliaries said, "One billion dollars is a huge mistake, one that shows a lack of candor and accountability on the VA's part, and one that does a tremendous disservice to military veterans who, above all other citizens are responsible for every freedom we enjoy today,"
Last month, veteran’s rights activist, Gene Simes arranged a public meeting with U.S. Capitol officials in the Cannon building in Washington, DC. About 70 members of Operation Firing For Effect met with VA Deputy Assistant Secretary, William McLemore, Communications Director for the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Jeffrey Phillips, and Democratic Staff Aide for Congressman Lane Evens, Len Sistek. At one point in the meeting, Jere Beery addressed the panel concerning the admitted one billion dollar mistake made in last year’s VA budget. Beery directly asked Assistant Secretary McLemore if he was personally responsible for last year’s astronomical mistake. McLemore said, <quote> “Absolutely” <unquote>. McLemore did not elaborate on how he was involved in the one billion dollar miscalculation. Many of the veterans in attendance later commented that McLemore’s attitude was somewhat arrogant and pompous when answering Beery’s questions. “Up until now, the media has not directly linked a name to the outrageous costly mistake made last year. They merely reported the VA made a billion dollar mistake,” Jere Beery said in a phone interview. “If you add up the total of these 3 incidents; $11,000,000 fraud, $1,000,000,000 budget mistake, and 26,500,000 veteran’s personal information stolen, that totals to; one billion, thirty seven million, five hundred thousand, (1,037,500,000) mistakes made under the current VA leadership in just the past 18 months,” Beery said.
Gene Simes and Jere Beery are both recognized activist within the grassroots veteran’s rights movement currently sweeping the country. Both men are Vietnam combat disabled veterans, and both have been very outspoken about the protection of benefits and services earned by our former military personnel. According to Simes, “the chain of ultimate responsibility must be respected in order to maintain the integrity of the system that services our veterans. Many veterans across this country are very upset with the VA right now. Our veterans have lost all trust in the VA. It is very apparent to many of us the VA needs new leadership as soon as humanly possible,” Simes stated. “Accountability is the keyword here. We are publicly calling for the immediate resignation of Secretary Jim Nicholson,” Simes concluded.