Man fights VA, says half of his father’s insurance benefits went to employee

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DENVER -- Wade Barton still gets emotional every time he visits his father's grave at Fort Logan National Cemetery west of Denver.

“I wish things were better off than they were,” Barton said looking over his father's tombstone.

His father died almost two years ago, but his son's battle against the Department of Veterans Affairs rages on.

Barton is fighting the office over his dad's life insurance policy. He's upset because half of the money went to a VA social worker who helped with his father's care.

“My dad told me that money was to be used after he died for burial services and whatever else needed to be handled,” Barton said.

TAK LANDROCKHe wants to know why half of the $10,000 policy was given to an employee, which he believes is against federal regulations that prohibit employees from getting gifts from veterans over $20 a year.

Documents obtained by FOX31 Denver show the VA employee, Jim Sellers, met with Barton’s father on at least seven occasions while he was getting care at the VA hospital.

Barton said he doesn’t believe his father intended to leave Sellers half of the life insurance money and demanded the local VA office investigate.

The VA Office of Inspector General looked into the matter in April and found there was “insufficient evidence to pursue further investigation,” according to a letter the VA sent Barton in April.

Sellers is listed as a friend on the life insurance document, which was signed in 2009 at the VA medical facility in Denver.

The VA said Sellers was not in the room at the time the document was signed and did not help Barton’s father with the paperwork.

US Rep. Mike Coffman, who is the leading member of the House Subcommittee for VA Oversight and Investigation, doesn't believe Barton got a true investigation by the OIG.

"Clearly there is no question, on the surface, that there appears to be very significant wrong doing," Coffman said.

Coffman asked for a second investigation by the OIG and got it. The second investigation found no criminal wrongdoing, but this time the agency that investigates governmental department said Sellers may have exercised questionable judgment in accepting the proceeds in his role as a VA employee.

The OIG said it would leave it up to the VA to decide if any administrative action is warranted.

Sellers refused to speak with FOX31 Denver after repeated requests for an interview.

In a written statement, a VA spokesman wrote, "The veteran was fully alert, cognizant and not influenced by any other person."

It goes on to say, "The veteran was within his rights to name whomever he desired to receive the proceeds from his VA Life insurance policy."

Coffman disagrees with the VA's stance on this issue  and is ordering the OIG to dig deeper.

"We could argue that maybe the mental state of that patient was that he was cognizant to make that decision, but it doesn’t matter because if we look at regulations they are fairly clear that this should not have occurred," Coffman said.

Coffman thinks there is a cover-up to protect Sellers, but he also wants to know if there a systemic problem at VA centers across the county.

"This may not be an isolated incident. This may be a pattern that goes across the nation in VA facilities where you have a system that has figured out that people that are in a position of trust, over elderly veterans, that they essentially manipulate them," Coffman said.

For now Barton will continue to fight and is hoping justice will prevail.