NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The Louisiana Legislative Auditor and Inspector General released a scathing audit Monday of the state's Veterans Affairs Department.
The audit lists a number of problems during the tenure of former VA Secretary David LaCerte. It says LaCerte engaged in questionable hiring and pay practices. It also says the department improperly used funds, and improperly documented work and travel expenses.
"Former Secretary LaCerte requested $27,500 to be used to provide a vehicle for a cemetery and that vehicle was to be used to haul, you know, to move veterans from one place to the other when they are not able to walk throughout the cemetery. And yet, when he purchased the vehicle, he did not deliver it to the cemetery. Instead, they used it for his travel and some of the staff's travel," said Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera. "And he did so at the same time that he was receiving $500 per month for use of his own personal vehicle for these types of travels."
The audit also says the department failed to inform the authorities about possible crimes against residents at three war veterans homes. In one of those cases, the audit says an employee's theft of a resident's funds was not reported to police or the resident's family. In a second case, the audit says medical documents related to the death of another resident were falsified.
"As Inspector General, the areas that really concern me are the fact that you got possible crimes against patients of these veterans homes that are not being reported to law enforcement and not being disclosed and furthermore you have in at least one instance records being falsified and in other instances records being deleted and destroyed concerning instances with these patients," state Inspector General Stephen Street said.
While the Office of Inspector General continues its investigation, LaCerte's attorney, Jarrett Ambeau, says the findings are blatantly false.
"In general, we think that the joint investigative report is of political fiction, that the allegations that are inside the report are just baseless assertions designed to attack Mr. LaCerte and denigrate what is otherwise honorable service to the veterans of the State of Louisiana," Ambeau said.
Governor John Bel Edwards also responded to the audit with this statement:
"I will not tolerate the kind of mismanagement that the previous leadership provided at the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs." Gov.Edwards went on to say "It is a new day for veterans in Louisiana. These heroes deserve our lifelong respect and gratitude for their selfless service and the sacrifice they and their families made for our country. Secretary Strickland is already well underway implementing the service improvements that our veterans deserve and that I will demand. Under my administration, Louisiana veterans can rest assured that veterans matter personally to me."