WRAL Investigates

Former VA worker says vets aren't only ones mistreated by system

Posted September 7, 2016 6:18 p.m. EDT

— Veterans who served their country aren't the only ones fighting for proper treatment by the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a former worker for the agency.

Dorothy Jeffries served six years in the Women's Army Corps decades ago and then had a job in civil service, eventually working as a mental health social worker at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center. She helped veterans get registered for needed services and found housing for veterans living on the street.

But Jeffries grew frustrated with her work environment and the overall treatment of veterans, so she retired in June 2015. That's when her own problems with the VA began.

The 68-year-old didn't receive a pension check for five months, and when the checks did start arriving, they weren't for the proper amount.

"It's half of what I should be getting," said Jeffries, who compiled about 19 years of work for the federal government over her career, including nine with the VA.

After months of back and forth, Jeffries received a letter from the VA saying that she had been "retired under the wrong retirement system."

More than a year since Jeffries' retirement, the problems still aren't resolved.

"It could be sheer incompetence. It could be retaliatory," she said. "Financially, it's about destroyed me."

Jeffries said she's had to borrow money from friends and family to survive.

Retired VA administrator Spencer Sikder said he worries about VA employees and the veterans they're supposed to serve.

"I think it's frustration because of the amount of work," Sikder said. "I think a lot of what we see (is) veterans are so frustrated because employees are so frustrated."

Jeffrey Melvin, a spokesman for the Fayetteville VA Medical Center, said in an email that the VA and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service are trying to untangle the red tape for Jeffries and get her switched into the correct system for her pension.

"HR representatives acknowledged the mistake, apologized for the error and began the process to have her placed in the right system," Melvin said. "Several of our HR reps, VA Retirement Specialty Center specialists as well as DFAS personnel have all reached out to Ms. Jeffries to keep her apprised of the progress of efforts to resolve this unfortunate error. At this time, we cannot provide a get well date, but we wish to again assure her that her record is being corrected."

Jeffries said she doesn't buy government promises that VA operations are improving.

"I don't think things are getting better. I think they're getting worse," she said.