Arizona Department of Veterans Services' Fiduciary Program Gets Slammed by the Arizona Supreme Court

I don't always remember to honor our veterans. Typically, I work through Memorial Day. (And Labor Day, for that matter.) I can't even tell you when Veterans Day is.

But this year, I found myself riveted by festivities for the most obscure veterans holiday we have in Arizona: Vietnam Remembrance Day. I'd never even heard of this particular celebration before it showed up on the TV news last Sunday, yet I couldn't look away.

And that's because, for the first time, it feels personal. My little brother just joined the Marines, and I was lucky enough to attend his boot camp graduation earlier this month in San Diego.

I'm very proud of him, but I'm also worried. Worried because — unless you've got a family member serving — it's all too easy to forget to honor our military. Worried because my brother could face serious repercussions for his enlistment during this time of war. Worried because, when war leads to catastrophic injury, it's all too easy to stick our bravest citizens with the worst care.

I'm thinking of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, exposed for its neglect of veterans and unsatisfactory conditions in 2007. Closer to home, I'm thinking of the nursing home run by the Arizona Department of Veterans Services: The feds fined the agency $10,000 for substandard conditions there three years ago.

I'm also thinking about Patrick Chorpenning. An appointee of Governor Jane Hull, Chorpenning ruled the roost at Veterans Services for years before the Walter Reed scandal made Arizona take a closer look at its Veterans Home.

Even then, when Chorpenning was pushed out, he vowed that he'd be exonerated. Not quite: Last November, Chorpenning was indicted on a series of felonies. A scathing report from the state's auditor general found that he'd broken state law to hire his son (as a grant writer) and his wife (as an interior decorator) — and billed the Veterans' Home. The auditor general suggests he was literally stealing food from the mouths of hungry veterans to pay his family members.

And in recent weeks, it's become all too clear to me that Veterans Services' problems don't end with Chorpenning. There hasn't been a word about this in any of Arizona's dailies, but a series of consent orders and audits have revealed serious mismanagement of the program that supplies guardians and conservators for incapacitated veterans.

Veterans who qualify for the agency's services pay just $75 for its monthly services, which include both watching over their physical well-being and safeguarding their finances in Probate Court. That's an important service. But earlier this year, the Arizona Supreme Court, which licenses fiduciaries, released both a blistering audit and a formal censure of the agency's program.

I'll get to the censure in a minute, but the audit has led to another, more detailed report in Maricopa County. After the court referred the audit to all the probate courts in the state, Probate Court Judge Karen O'Connor conducted a review of her own, looking into every case in which Veterans Services was responsible for care.

O'Connor's order, issued in March, found that Veterans Services had shown "a pattern and practice of failing to consistently discharge its fiduciary duties by failing to comply with statutory reporting requirements, court orders, and/or court rules" in 27 cases. She didn't just put the agency on probation; she also stripped it of the ability to take on new cases.

Now, it's important to note that most of what O'Connor found wasn't malicious. Veterans Services guardians, or their attorneys, were simply sloppy. They didn't file annual reports in a timely fashion. They didn't close out estates as quickly as they should have. Cases languished, and sometimes heirs didn't get their inheritances as quickly as they should have.

But paperwork errors can often conceal serious problems. Nancy Swetnam, director of the certification and licensing division of the Arizona Supreme Court, tells me that the court is a stickler for these annual reports simply because they're the key to detecting fraud when it occurs.

"If the judges don't get that information, they don't get the information they need," she told me. "And in some prior cases where, unfortunately, we've had fiduciaries stealing their client's money, one of the red flags has been the fiduciary not filing their reports."

(Michael Bosco Jr., the private attorney who's represented Veterans Services on almost all the cases in question, didn't return my calls for comment.)

No one can say that's happened here. But the paperwork problems are serious enough to get the court's full attention. Swetnam tells me they're already planning another audit for September.


In a series of columns about a little old lady named Marie Long, Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts has excoriated the lawyers and commissioners working in probate court — arguing that they helped themselves to $1.3 million of Long's assets and left her in the poorhouse.

All that expense could have been avoided, Roberts has suggested, if only Long's niece had contracted with the Arizona Department of Veterans Services for her guardianship. Because Long's late husband served in the military, she could have availed herself of its services. For whatever reason, Long's niece instead selected private — and therefore more expensive — guardians.

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3 comments
Aracely
Aracely

I am a fellow veteran and I think its a shame that there is almost nobody that is capable of helping out Veterans of Arizona. It's is a disgrace that the only way an organization will render aid or assistance is if they get something out of it!!! Other than that I just might have to try another state that looks out for their veterans.

Anonymous
Anonymous

The Directors office and the Veterans Fund as well as this Agencies hiring practices should be investigated. I remember quite a few years ago reading about another Director, Norm Gallion doing the same thing Patrick Chorpenning has done. This is disgraceful for our veterans and I am sick of seeing them cheated the way this agency does in all their divisions...i.e: Arizona State Veterans Home, Director's office, Fiduciary. O'Conner needs to go in and wipe the slate clean!!!

anoymous
anoymous

The whole divison needs to be audited starting in the Directors offcie you would probaly be amzed at what you find

 

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