GAO Audits Background Check Process at VHA Facilities
December 14, 2023
Federal Auditors recently informed lawmakers about how they discovered a breakdown in background checks conducted by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). They made this announcement during a House hearing, explaining how the screenings allowed some applicants with criminal drug records to obtain healthcare jobs.
The Inspector General’s Office began these investigations in 2017. It occurred because the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) discovered the inconsistencies in the VA’s background check process. According to the Departments, employees working in direct care positions at Veteran Health Administration facilities did not undergo proper screening.
Comments On the Process
The House Committee heard several testimonies on the VA sub-panel’s oversight and investigations. These recounts revealed that the required background checks did not happen, went incomplete, or ran incorrectly. The chairwoman of the sub-panel, Representative Jen Kiggans, R-VA., also spoke on the matter.
According to Rep. Kiggans, evidence indicated that the VA did not follow the law and common-sense policy. This negligence caused significant deficiencies in the background checks. She also commented on the lack of progress in fixing the discovered flaws to improve the background check process.
In February, the GAO discovered that 12,569 VHA employees had criminal records linked to controlled substances. According to the director of forensic audits and investigative service, 1,800 of these workers had felony drug convictions. These numbers are despite the VHA facilities claiming to perform the mandated pre-employment background screenings on healthcare workers.
These screenings have three steps and require the applicant to report any criminal violations they have on their application. After sharing their background, the applicant must submit a fingerprint background check run by the FBI. Finally, the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency will investigate the applicant’s criminal history.
The Drug Enforcement Agency requires VHA medical centers to obtain a waiver for some healthcare workers to access controlled substances. For example, someone with felony drug convictions would need this waiver. However, Rep. Kiggans revealed that the VHA never acquired one.
Furthermore, they did not have established policies determining which employees may access controlled substances. This reveal caused the head of the VA’s Office of Identity, Credential, and Access Management to speak on the matter. According to the head, they would have a waiver by March 2024. He also assured all involved parties that they would perform background checks according to regulations.
Employers must ensure they adhere to all relevant regulations when hiring applicants. However, it has proven challenging to stay updated on all matters and comply as laws change. One way to maintain compliance is by working with a trustworthy screening company. The right partner will deliver accurate, timely, and compliant records.
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