Former VA employee says he reported pallets of unopened mail last year

This bin of boxes and parcels were among 10 pallets of unprocessed mail, some of it months old, the VA had in its Decatur hospital warehouse in September 2021

This bin of boxes and parcels were among 10 pallets of unprocessed mail, some of it months old, the VA had in its Decatur hospital warehouse in September 2021

A former Veterans Affairs employee says he notified managers last year about pallets of unopened mail — containing thousands of personal medical records and close to $200,000 in checks meant to go to medical providers — that sat for months in an Atlanta hospital basement.

James Bell, who left his job as a warehouse supervisor four months ago, said he heard about the mail being stored in a rented space and had it taken to the Atlanta VA Health Care Center hospital in Decatur. He told managers about it.

“This is serious. Veterans’ identities could have been stolen,” the 64-year-old Bell told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday. The unopened mail also may have led to unpaid doctors bills that resulted in liens being filed or legal actions taken against veterans, he said.

At the time, he said, he asked managers, “What are you going to do about it?” He never heard anything back.

The Atlanta hospital declined to answer questions, but sent a statement Thursday saying, “VA Southeast Network is continuing to investigate the recent incident of unopened mail at the Atlanta VA Medical Center and will take appropriate action based on the findings.”

The investigation started last month after VA employees noticed ten pallets of mail stacked as high as eight feet in the hospital basement warehouse and informed managers. Several VA employees also contacted the AJC.

The VA determined that the mail was mishandled because the department that deals with sending and distributing it changed.

The VA Southeast Network’s director launched an investigation after a story appeared in the AJC, and the VA’s Office of the Inspector General also is looking into the matter.

Bell said investigators have not talked to him.

The news attracted the attention of Georgia’s two senators. Last weekend, U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff visited the hospital to express concerns, according to a report by our partners Channel 2 Action News. The hospital is one of the largest VA facilities in the Southeast and is responsible for providing care for about 126,000 veterans in North Georgia.

“Each one of those pieces of mail represents a veteran, represents the medical concerns of a veteran,” Ossoff said.

“It’s also important that this message come through clearly that, if VA leadership does not demonstrate that they can solve these problems, I’m ready to bring the full investigative and oversight capacity I have as a member of Congress, of the Senate, to make sure they do and make sure there’s accountability when they fail,” he said.

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