Taxpayers deserve strong accountability
Tuesday, June 03, 2014 12:00 AM
Untold tax dollars are wasted in this country. Readers can no doubt produce their own list of examples of waste, but waste that comes in the form of fraud is even more frustrating and should be met with the harshest of penalties that can be imposed.
Stories emerged after Hurricane Katrina of countless people receiving debit cards from FEMA. Apparently, some people were able to descend on New Orleans and bilk well-intentioned FEMA employees out of those cards, claiming to be residents who had lost everything in the storm’s wake. No one knows how much taxpayer money was also lost, in a sense, to that storm.
Here in Greenwood County comes yet another case of fraud that amounts to a waste of taxpayer dollars, this one a scam that involved embezzlement from the already embattled U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Charges were brought against three Greenwood County men who, federal indictments reflect, conspired to defraud the VA. The scheme was rather simple: Get military veterans to apply for funds from the Veteran Retraining Assistance Program on the premise of getting trained in a local barber college. Documents were reportedly falsified and the vets were not required to actually attend classes. The VA dollars that would pay for the training were then to be split among the barber college owner and the veterans who participated in the scam.
Now in the general scheme of things, the amount of money scammed out of the VA’s coffers is fairly small -- a little more than $3,000. But think of the big picture. Think of how many others might be pulling off the same or similar scams and it is easy to imagine that such fraud is costing taxpayers millions upon millions of dollars.
Make no mistake. The retraining program is good and necessary. Too many of our veterans wind up out of work following their military service, and for any number of reasons. The program, which ended March 31, was set up to provide that helping hand to get these veterans, between the ages of 35 and 60, back on their feet, productive and gainfully employed. People like the three here who face federal charges, however, give such programs a bad name that often results in people clamoring for the programs to come to an end. Instead, what is needed is the kind of oversight that scours applicants for fraud and scamming. What else is needed is for justice to be carried out.
In this particular case, the defendants face fines ranging from $10,000 to $250,000 and up to five years in federal prison. First, the money that was scammed needs to be returned to the federal coffers. Second, the harshest of penalites should be imposed if the three are found to be guilty as charged.
All too often, it seems, scams and schemes that bilk government agencies out of funds are met with a shrug of the shoulders. After all, there’s a big pot of money and only so much was scammed, right? Wrong. Every dollar counts, and the agencies need to be held accountable by taking every step to avoid, uncover and prosecute fraud. And those who are caught need to be held up as examples of zero tolerance for such fraud.