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In letter, Senators urges Department of Veterans Affairs to address concerns raised by an Inspector General report issued at his request

Report found that fewer than 11 percent of VA’s public-facing websites were fully accessible

Senators: “It is critical that VA take immediate steps to ensure people with disabilities have equal access to the Department’s information and communication technology, as required by law”

Washington, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, joined his colleagues on the Aging Committee Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John Fetterman (D-PA), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to send a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) urging the agency to take action to address concerns raised by a recent Office of Inspector General (OIG) report that found VA has still widely failed to make its websites fully accessible for people with disabilities. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires the federal government to make its technology accessible for and useable by people with disabilities. However, the OIG report, which was issued at Senator Casey’s request, found that between 2019 and 2022, fewer than 12 percent of VA’s public-facing websites were fully accessible, and fewer than 11 percent of its internal websites were fully accessible.

“January’s audit by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) was the latest evidence that VA must improve its compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,” wrote the Senators. “It is critical that VA take immediate steps to ensure people with disabilities have equal access to the Department’s information and communication technology, as required by law.”

Chairman Casey has led the charge to improve the accessibility of government websites and other technology. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal technology to be accessible for, and usable by, people with disabilities. However, in a report issued in December 2022 entitled Unlocking the Virtual Front Door, Chairman Casey found that inaccessible federal technology creates barriers for people with disabilities to access essential services, including VA benefits, health care, employment, Social Security, and more. Chairman Casey’s report issued 12 recommendations, including a call for inspectors general to increase independent oversight of Section 508 compliance—a recommendation that led to the VA OIG issuing this report.

In 2020, Chairman Casey passed the VA Website Accessibility Act that required VA to report on the accessibility of the Department’s websites and kiosks. VA’s report to Congress, released in 2021, found that only 10 percent of VA’s websites were fully accessible. In response, Chairman Casey led a bipartisan push for VA to do better. This week’s VA OIG report found results that corroborated Casey’s findings in his own report, Unlocking the Virtual Front Door—namely, that there are many steps VA needs to take to ensure that its websites and information technology systems are equally accessible to all.

To further advance accessibility at VA, Chairman Casey last year introduced the bipartisan Veterans Accessibility Act, which is supported by 15 veterans service organizations and disability groups. The legislation would establish a Veterans Advisory Committee on Equal Access at VA that issues regular reports on VA’s compliance with federal disability laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. The reports will include recommendations for improving VA’s compliance, and will be shared with Congress, the public, and agencies that oversee the Nation’s disability laws. Veterans with disabilities will be among the advisory committee’s members, ensuring that their voices are heard.

You can read the full text of the Senators’ letter to VA HERE or below:

The Honorable Denis McDonough


U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary McDonough:

We write with concern about a recent watchdog report that identified widespread accessibility barriers at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), potentially hindering veterans with disabilities from obtaining the services and benefits they have earned. January’s audit by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) was the latest evidence that VA must improve its compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires the federal government’s technology to be accessible for, and useable by, people with disabilities. As the OIG’s audit stated, “until VA addresses all compliance issues, the information access provided to individuals with disabilities may not be comparable to the access provided to those without disabilities.” It is critical that VA take immediate steps to ensure people with disabilities have equal access to the Department’s information and communication technology, as required by law. We therefore request you provide information about the steps VA plans to take to address the OIG’s findings and recommendations.

The OIG’s recent audit, prompted in part by the Special Committee on Aging’s bipartisan oversight, found that fewer than 12 percent of VA’s external websites, and fewer than 10 percent of VA’s internal websites, were fully compliant with Section 508 requirements. The audit went on to detail several other shortfalls in compliance and policy at VA that reduced the accessibility of its technology, including:

  • VA did not ensure compliance with Section 508 requirements throughout the Department;
  • VA failed to track more than 200,000 internal and external websites via a departmental registry, as required by the Department’s own policies;
  • Some VA information technology systems were not assessed at all for Section 508 compliance;
  • VA could not fully monitor website accessibility for roughly two years due to contract problems with a technology vendor;
  • VA failed to timely update key technology policies, including its Section 508 compliance policy, and one directive that had not been updated in more than 10 years.

The OIG noted that it not just veterans with disabilities and their family members who are affected by inaccessible websites and technology. OIG wrote that “VA must make information from its websites, related resources, and data systems (unless otherwise prohibited) accessible to a broader audience … [including] VA employees and contractors, members of the public, Congress, veterans service organizations, and any other stakeholders seeking information or services and data from VA.” OIG set out six recommendations for VA to address the audit’s findings. The recommendations called on VA to develop and implement a strategy to track websites so that web policies are enforced; increase Department-wide education on accessibility policy requirements; and update relevant VA policies on accessibility and web development.

OIG’s findings underscore that accessibility barriers at VA have persisted across multiple administrations despite public reports and bipartisan concern from Congress. In 2014, a House subcommittee received testimony about accessibility barriers of VA technology, including data showing that major public-facing websites were not fully compliant with Section 508 requirements. In 2016, an OIG audit cited inadequate policy guidance, inadequate processes to ensure Section 508 compliance, and inadequate oversight of contractors, as reasons for VA’s failure to address nearly 200 compliance issues before the launch of a careers website. Following enactment of the bipartisan VA Website Accessibility Act, VA reported to Congress in 2021 that there were widespread accessibility shortfalls among the Department’s websites. However, VA’s lack of specificity about remedial steps in that report prompted the Aging Committee’s bipartisan leaders to seek additional information in 2022, contributing to OIG’s decision to launch an audit. Most recently, a 2023 governmentwide review of Section 508 compliance echoed OIG’s findings that VA needed to take additional steps to ensure its technology was accessible.

In light of this history, we are encouraged that VA plans to take up OIG’s recommendations to improve Section 508 compliance. We are further encouraged that OIG viewed VA’s corrective action plans to be “generally responsive.” Going forward, we request that you keep our offices informed about VA’s progress toward addressing the audit’s recommendations. In addition, we request that you provide answers to the following questions no later than May 14, 2024:

  1. The OIG expressed concern that VA did not provide sufficient detail to address the audit’s first recommendation, which called on the Department to “develop and implement a strategy with milestones for identifying all VA websites, confirm their inclusion in VA’s Web Registry as the current system designated by policy, and certify the accuracy of entries annually or as changes occur.” Please provide additional details about VA’s plan to address this recommendation.
  1. According to the audit, “VA policy requires that under secretaries, assistant secretaries, and other key officials, with assistance from the chief information officer, ensure that all systems and applications developed, procured, and maintained or used by VA have been analyzed, tested, and evaluated in coordination with its Section 508 Office for compliance with the law.” What steps is your office taking to ensure that progress is being made toward improving accessibility of the Department’s websites and other technology?
  1. The audit noted that VA established a Web Governance Board, which serves “as the final authority on all web-related content outlined in its policies.” However, a review of the board’s materials shows that Section 508 compliance is mentioned just once. It is therefore not clear what, if any, attention the board has paid to accessibility shortfalls amongst VA’s websites. Given the board’s important role in carrying out web policy, and the accessibility concerns raised by the OIG’s audit:
    1. What steps does the board plan to take to improve accessibility of VA websites?
    1. Does the board plan to create a subcommittee or workgroup—powers provided for in its charter—to examine VA websites’ compliance with Section 508 and track improvements?
    1. Does the board include members with disabilities to ensure that users who affected by accessibility barriers have a voice? If not, what steps will VA take to include members with disabilities in the board’s efforts?

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

If you or your staff have questions, please contact Doug Hartman on Senator Casey’s Aging Committee staff at 202-224-5364.