March 28, 2019

Duckworth Urges VA Office of Inspector General To Investigate Irregularities in VA MISSION Act Public Comment Submission Process


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – After more than 21,500 suspicious public comments were submitted regarding a proposed rule change at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), U.S. Senator and combat Veteran Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) pressed the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) to investigate the potential manipulation and ensure the integrity of the rulemaking process. The more than 21,500 suspicious public comments, which were identical, accounted for roughly 90% of the 23,886 total comments submitted.

 “I did not vote for the VA MISSION Act for it to be fraudulently hijacked by a small group of ideologues claiming to represent Veterans,” Duckworth said. “I use VA for my own healthcare, and I talk to Veterans in Illinois as well as around the country on a regular basis. When care outside VA is necessary, Veterans must have access to it—but we cannot allow funding to be unnecessarily diverted to the private sector when VA can better provide that care. VA must not use invalid or spam comments when determining how to implement the VA MISSION Act.”

 The comments in question could contribute to VA’s determination for when Veterans may seek healthcare outside the VA. Democrats, Republicans and many Veterans have expressed strong concern over the proposed rule, which would be authorized under the VA MISSION Act. The comments were submitted in a short period of time and are completely identical, raising the suspicion of a potential spam campaign initiated by partisan groups. Suspicion was raised further when some submitted comments were found to be using the names of companies that are located outside the United States.

  The full text of the letter is available below and a copy is available here.

 Dear Inspector General Missal:

 I write to request that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) initiate an investigation into the potential manipulation of the public comment submission process concerning an ongoing VA rulemaking.

 Preliminary reports and observed suspicious activity indicate thousands of unusually high, identical public comments submitted for the VA proposed rule to amend its regulations for the Veterans Community Care Program. This rule will establish the access standards authorized under the VA MISSION Act of 2018 for covered Veterans to receive necessary hospital care, medical services and extended care services from non-VA entities or providers in the community.

 Any effort to manipulate or subvert the integrity of the Federal rulemaking process is alarming and may involve potential statutory, regulatory and policy violations. Worst of all, if automated entities are spamming the public comment process, this not only wastes taxpayer dollars in the form of hours spent sifting through bot-generated messages, but it also threatens to drown out the voices of real Veterans, Veterans Service Organizations and other advocates.

 Thank you in advance for your consideration of my request.