Oversight and Investigations Chairwoman Kiggans Delivers Opening Remarks at Hearing on VA Background Check Process
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, Rep. Jen Kiggans, (R-Va.), the Chairwoman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, delivered the following remarks, as prepared, at the start of the Subcommittee’s oversight hearing to examine VA’s background check process for new employees of the Department:
The subcommittee will come to order.
Thank you all for being here today as the subcommittee conducts important oversight on VA’s background check process.
To obtain VA employment, applicants must go through a three-part background check.
First, applicants must self-report information; including violations of law.
Second, applicant fingerprints are submitted to the FBI for a criminal history check.
Finally, the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency investigates the applicant.
During each step of this process, VA staff reviews relevant information to determine if the applicant is qualified, competent, and suitable for the position they are applying to.
If the background check reveals an applicant has a felony-controlled substance related conviction, and the applicant will have access to controlled substances in their VA position, VA must submit a waiver for Drug Enforcement Agency, or DEA, approval.
Though these background checks take time, they are a crucial part of the hiring process.
Even though there has been a lot of pressure to hire as many VA employees as possible, it is also crucial the right people care for our veterans, so veterans and their family members know they are in safe hands.
Individuals with a controlled substance criminal history should not, absent a DEA employment waiver, be hired for positions where they have access to controlled substances.
When the wrong people are hired for the job, veteran safety is put at risk.
Just a few years ago one of VA’s nursing assistants in Clarksburg, West Virginia murdered seven patients after deliberately administrating lethal insulin dosages.
Since then, there have been numerous instances where medical professionals have been caught stealing medication that is procured for veterans.
These instances contributed to the more than 1,400 incidents of controlled substance theft or loss at VA, about seven percent, of the 20,000 total incidents reported to DEA in 2021.
Given VA’s consistent failure to get rid of its few bad employees, including in situations I have heard about like employee drug theft, it is crucial VA does not hire dangerous employees in the first place.
Despite the importance of effectively carrying out the employee background check process, evidence suggests VA is failing to follow the law and common-sense policy resulting in background check deficiencies.
IG reports in both 2019 and 2023 highlight major issues with VA’s management of the background check process.
The 2023 report outlines how VA background investigations are often initiated late, not timely adjudicated, and not properly documented in violation of VA’s own policies.
Disturbingly, the report also highlights how in some cases, for unknown reasons, applicants never have background investigations done in the first place.
This includes hundreds of employees with indications of a controlled substance related criminal history that GAO estimates have not completed background investigations.
The absence of these background investigations is alarming as DEA regulations require employers, including VA, to apply for and receive employment waivers for those with access to controlled substances who were convicted of a controlled substance related felony.
Simply put: this is not optional.
These DEA regulations are in place to prevent drug theft and loss, which is common at VA.
Unfortunately, evidence suggests VA is not properly executing DEA employment waivers.
GAO, in both 2019 and 2023, found VHA has ZERO DEA employment waiver policy in place, including guidance for determining whether employees have access to controlled substances.
I am very concerned that over four years have passed since VA was first made aware of these deficiencies and there has still been little to no progress made to improve the background check process.
I look forward to all of you testifying before us today explaining why VA has FAILED to fix the deficiencies in its background check DEA employment waiver process.
With that, I now recognize Ranking Member Mrvan for his opening comments.