In March 2021, the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency requested the assistance of the state Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in investigating possible fraud perpetrated by a GVRA counselor seeking an inappropriately large amount of financial assistance for her disabled family members.

Even though the OIG found no evidence of criminal intent, the GVRA agreed with the inspector’s determination that its employees had violated the agency’s policies as well as Gov. Kemp’s ethics policy which all state employees are required to sign.

As a result, based on the OIG’s findings, the GVRA terminated the counselor as well as a colleague who assisted her in obtaining a total overpayment of $53,113 in her children’s financial assistance. A third employee involved in the transactions early-on resigned in 2018. The inappropriate transactions occurred over a period of more than five years.

To prevent similar fraud in the future, in July 2021, state Inspector General Scott McAfee recommended changes to the GVRA’s policy and procedures. In answer, GVRA Executive Director Chris Wells created a dedicated quality assurance unit to ensure the compliance of the agency’s counselors and financial need assessment processes at more than 30 offices across the state. The unit became fully functional in Fall 2021.

GVRA policy not only specifically requires counselors to recuse themselves from advising about, or processing, applications being made by their relatives or close associates, but they also must avoid even the appearance of using their positions to help themselves and their families—which is also required under the governor’s ethics policy.

Additionally, clarification of guidelines on how to assess the financial needs of applicants with divorced parents was one of the recommendations of the OIG that stemmed from this particular case. The GVRA counselors involved calculated need based on the income of only one parent whereas the income of both parents should be considered.

Lastly, the GVRA has enhanced financial needs assessment training as part of its vocational rehabilitation counselor onboarding to ensure the process is uniform and secure.

With help from the OIG and continued vigilance within the GVRA, we will better serve our clients and the taxpayers of Georgia moving forward.