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VA Official Scolded for Ties to Advocacy Group

POSTED: 01:10 PM ET, 07/ 7/2008 by Derek Kravitz


"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.

-- Derek Kravitz

By Derek Kravitz |  July 7, 2008; 1:10 PM ET Washington Watchdogs
Previous: Sweetheart Deals in Prince George's | Next: Don Young's Pitch to the Lobbyists

Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



Heaven forbid that anyone with some level of knowledge about the strengths and weaknesses of government programs and who has some empathy for the people those programs are created to serve goes to work for that agency. If you really want to scold someone for a conflict of interest, why not all those government contractors and industry executives who are appointed by politicians to high posts in agencies that regulate those industries and award billion of dollars in contracts their former employers?

Posted by: David Autry | July 7, 2008 2:21 PM

Thank you David, but please don't forget the VA officials (Principi, McPeake) and more who came from industry and are illegally using their power and influence to contract with their former employers (QTC). And please don't forget their research projects in which the experiment on veterans with drugs (Chantix)and unauthorized treatments, or the undue influence on the NAS/IOM to change protocols, withhold information, or stop avenues of research in order to deny veterans nexus to disease, service connection, and benefits. THE DVA should be under investigation for violation of the Rico Act, and numerous other acts and Congressional passed public laws.

Instead the media just lets them get away with it.

Posted by: K9USAFRET | July 7, 2008 5:33 PM

Larry is correct. This is an absolute conflict of interest.

Ask any homeless veteran if he or she is being well represented? The cozy "buddy buddy" crap has gone on for over 60 years and left millions of disabled veterans out in the cold.

The system is broken, and won't be fixed by the VA sending in the plays.

Posted by: Bob Walsh | July 8, 2008 9:11 AM

Does anyone remember Denval Adams? Corruption at the DAV. What is new?

Posted by: Haase | July 8, 2008 12:18 PM

Why is it so terrible for someone who is sympathetic to veteran's issue to be a high ranking VA official? The veterans of this country, especially the older Vietnam veterans have been getting screwed by the politically connected coroporate types for the past 8 years. Perhaps Reynolds could provide at least offset the attitude of the politically connected bean counters who look for ways to deny deserving veterans, rather than assisting them obtain the benefits they deserve. Anyone who is a blue water Navy Vietnam veteran knows the great lengths that the VA has gone to deny benefits that Congress requires. See www.bluewaternavy.org

Posted by: Michael0004 | July 8, 2008 1:46 PM

Someone should look into his selection for promotions at the VA. You can't tell me officials didn't take his posistion with a lobbyist organization into consideration when they selected him for career advancement.

Posted by: watchdog | July 8, 2008 5:01 PM

What an obvious and ridiculous hit job on the DAV National Commander, someone who not only served his Nation, and was injured in that service, but then continued to serve his fellow veterans and the Nation both as a volunteer in DAV and a public servant at VA.

Sadly, all anyone reads on these cheap shot, "gotcha", hit pieces is the headline. An anonymous complaint was filed and by statue, the IG had to investigate. So we get lots of questions about potential wrong doing, but what did the IG actually conclude?

The IG concluded, and I quote from the bottom of his report on Page 6, "... we found no circumstance or particular matter that created a conflict of interest or the appearance thereof..."

In other words, not only was there no evidence of any conflict of interest, there wasn't even any appearance of conflict of interest.

So what's the issue here?

Oh yeah, an Internet "journalist" needed to file a story to get paid. Congrats, Derek, now go cash your paycheck.

Posted by: Peter D. | July 9, 2008 3:04 PM

How else would the government respond?
DUH...nothing wrong here!!!

Posted by: Brons | July 10, 2008 7:51 PM

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