VA Official Scolded for Ties to Advocacy Group
"Washington Watchdogs," a periodic feature of the Post's Investigations blog, looks at the findings of the federal government's official investigators.
(Updated at 3:49 p.m. to include information from Disabled American Veterans)
A top Department of Veterans Affairs official has been scolded by the government agency for his involvement with a prominent lobbying organization, a group that helps disabled veterans get benefits that the official is charged with dispersing.
The official, Robert T. Reynolds, became a member of the Cold Spring, Ky.-based Disabled American Veterans before he began working for the Veterans Affairs Department, he said. But audtiors said the situation is "fraught with possibilities for running afoul" of department ethics policies and he will have his activities "closely monitored" and be instructed on what "matters may require his recusal," according to a government audit obtained by Watchdogs this week through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The audit, while redacted, references Disabled American Veterans (DAV), which has 1.4 million members, on page five of the report and, indirectly, Reynolds, the organization's national commander who also serves as the executive management officer for the Veterans Benefits Administration in Washington, D.C.
A photo of Reynolds is prominently displayed on the organization's Web site. Reynolds was elected national commander during the organization's national convention in August 2006 in New Orleans.
During his introductory speech, Reynolds "proclaimed the DAV the undisputed service organization for veterans and reaffirmed the organization's mission to build better lives for America's disabled veterans and their families through the finest advocacy and service programs in existence."
Reynolds, 42, a disabled veteran from Arlington, Va., served in the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division from 1984 to 1990. He was injured in a parachute accident while assigned to a U.S. Army Special Forces unit; the injury required two years years of multiple surgeries before he was honorably discharged.
Larry Scott, founder and editor of VA Watchdog, an online magazine that focuses on veterans issues, said top positions at so-called veterans services organizations are often reserved for government workers such as Reynolds.
"What we find is that people who are politically motivated, not partisan per se, but politcally motivated, use VSOs as a stepping stone to Washington," said Scott, referencing politicians like Gordon H. Mansfield, the deputy sectetary of Veterans Affairs and a Bush appointee who served as executive director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
A former executive director of DAV, the late Jesse Brown, served as secretary of Veterans Affairs in the Clinton administration.
Scott, who is also a member of DAV, said he asked members of the national disabled veterans organization about Reynolds' potential conflict of interest when the government worker was elected president of the disability organization nearly two years ago.
"They said that, 'We don't see him doing anything wrong. He's very careful,'" Scott said. "This is how things have been done. This how things will be done. This is the way business is done.'"
Reynolds, reached at his Washington office this morning, said he had yet to read the report. David W. Gorman, executive director of DAV, read a copy of the report provided by Watchdogs, calling it a "waste of valuable government resources"
"We're in this game together, the game being how do we best take care of disabled veterans," Gorman said. "Personally, I don't see any conflict."
Gorman added that officials are aware of the sensitive nature of Reynolds' dual roles and that Reynolds had been "kept clean" from advising or influencing DAV's positions and policies.
Investigators did not find specific examples of wrongdoing but Reynolds told auditors he "stood for both VA and DAV and that the missions were one and the same."
"He clearly could not distinguish between these two distinct organizations which, at times, have adversarial or opposing viewpoints," the audit said.
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