An apologetic official from Veterans Affairs has been reaching out to citizens who sought records from the agency under the federal Freedom of Information Act, which requires the government to share many types of information with the public.
The story: A VA FOIA staffer was out on medical leave and the Department has now discovered "a number of old (FOIA) requests that were never gotten around to..."
It's not clear how many requests "fell through the cracks," as the official describes it. But the violation of the regulations is clear. The FOIA law says the Department has 20 business days to respond to an initial request. Our initial request -- for sister site DMZ War -- involves asbestos exposure by US Korean Service veterans and was submitted in December 2012.
Missing a clear legal deadline by more than a year-and-a-half and counting, by an agency that claims it's focused on transparency, is pretty embarrassing. We'd cut them a bit of slack given the current life-or-death demands on VA to reduce its lines for medical care, but this is an entirely different VA department that appears to share the same lax management as the health-delivery side.
Come to think of it, is it possible the FOIA bureaucrat who dropped the ball during medical leave was himself stuck in the VA medical system? If so, we have at least a little sympathy.