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THAP's bills for housing checked

Auditors look to see if THAP overbilled the VA for housing veterans.

By JEFF TESTERMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 15, 2002

TAMPA -- A special U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs audit team is exploring possible billing discrepancies by THAP, the nonprofit agency now in the process of dropping sponsorship of its Veterans Village shelter for homeless vets.

The auditors are trying to determine if THAP, the Tampa-Hillsborough Action Plan, overbilled the VA for some of the $415,337 allocated for the housing of up to 23 homeless vets during the last four years.

THAP had been billing the VA at the rate of $16 a day per veteran, but then began seeking federal reimbursement at the rate of $19 a day without filing the appropriate documentation, said Arthur Rosenblatt, chief psychologist at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa.

A letter sent to the VA this week indicates THAP officials are unsure of the amounts paid to the local agency to house homeless veterans. The letter asks the VA to confirm the amounts, Rosenblatt said.

The special audit is part of a federal investigation into former THAP executive Chester M. Luney by the office of the VA's Inspector General. The inquiry began after the St. Petersburg Times disclosed that Luney, an $80,279-a-year psychologist for the VA, wrote grant applications that funneled federal money to THAP, where he was a part-time executive being paid $78,000 annually.

The VA has cut off federal disbursements to THAP pending the completion of the investigation. That, in turn, led THAP to drop sponsorship of Veterans Village.

THAP founding director James A. Hammond met Wednesday night with the remaining veterans at Veterans Village to tell them of plans to convert the facility to a conventional apartment complex.

"He told us THAP is broke and can no longer carry the load," said Lynn Leftwich, 34, a U.S. Navy veteran who resides in one of the brick apartments at 1911 137th Ave. E.

"He said he wouldn't put anybody on the streets, but he said as of April 1, the rent for the units would be $500, plus utilities."

The VA's general counsel is trying to determine if THAP can make that conversion without reimbursing the U.S. government.

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