On March 24, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Inspector General released a report on violations of ethics rules by Charmain Bogue, a high department official, who resigned instead of answering more questions about conflicts of interest uncovered and publicized by NLPC in 2020.
The conflicts were related to the hiring of Barrett Bogue, Charmain Bogue’s husband, by an outside group, known as Veterans Education Success (VES), to gain influence within the Department. Barrett Bogue received $150,000 for “work” that, according to emails obtained by the IG, was questioned within VES itself.
The scandal was a rare embarrassment for the veterans’ community, consisting of a score of groups, which generally work together to represent the 19 million Americans who have served in uniform.
There are more than 100 VA-recognized Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs). They include some of the biggest and most well-known, such as The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS and Vietnam Veterans of America.
While these groups enjoy an excellent public image, and receive substantial private support, the VA itself gets relatively low favorability ratings compared with other government agencies, according to a Pew Research Center poll last year.
The VA received the third-lowest rating among 10 agencies and departments. About two-thirds of U.S. adults (65%) had a favorable view of the VA, and 22% expressed an unfavorable view.
A survey in 2019 found veterans themselves had mixed feelings about the VA. Just 9% said the department was doing an excellent job meeting the needs of military veterans; 37% said the VA was doing a good job. About half said it was doing only a fair (37%) or poor (15%) job.
The VA administers an array of programs, with significant involvement of the VSOs, who help veterans navigate the claims and benefits system. Because the relationship is so close, VSOs run the danger of being tainted by the VA’s problems, especially if one of their own is the center of a scandal involving influence and insider connections.
VES is a niche player in this ecosystem. It claims that its mission is:
To advance higher education success for veterans, service members, and military families, and to protect the integrity and promise of the GI Bill and other federal education programs.
That sounds noble but the IG report makes VES look terrible. Even after the IG’s findings of ethics violations, there remain unanswered questions. From the IG report:
…according to a November 2020 email from the VES president, Ms. Bogue intervened to stop VES from immediately terminating her spouse’s contract following the publication of news articles alleging a conflict of interest. In her interview with OIG investigators, Ms. Bogue denied asking the VES president to delay terminating her husband or asking him to communicate that request to VES. Because Mr. Bogue and the VES president declined to be interviewed, and lacking other evidence, the OIG could not substantiate whether Ms. Bogue in fact interceded in her spouse’s termination.
The VES president who refuses to answer questions is Carrie Wofford, a former staff member to ex-Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA)
The IG distributed the report to the VA leadership and Congressional Committees with VA oversight. An audience with an even more compelling interest should be the VSO community. VES maintains a high profile in Washington and its representatives take part in governmental advisory committees. NLPC is distributing copies of the IG report to VSOs with an admonition about working with groups that bring discredit to the veterans community.
Click here for IG report.