Freshman Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) reported from the House floor on May 22nd that a group of Veteran’s Administration (VA) disability officers have filed federal whistle-blower complaints and/or sworn affidavits.
The complaints stated that the Oakland, California VA has had a policy to secretly reject or limit thousands of legitimate disability claims, “then reap bonuses [known as Payout Savings Incentive] by posting saving to the government and taxpayers [by] denying these claims and these payments.”
Congressman LaMalfa said that veterans refer to the strategy as “Deny, Delay and Wait until They Die.”
LaMalfa recently authored, and the House passed an amendment to, H.R. 4301 requiring Veterans Affairs offices to regularly provide updates on the status of veterans’ claims, regardless of whether claims had been reassigned to different VA offices.
Despite the current scandal of at least 40 disabled Veterans dying because they could not get a doctor’s appointment, LaMalfa believes the even bigger scandal is the disability adjudication process, where veterans face a “nightmarish gauntlet before they can even hope to be added to the secret waiting list at a Veteran’s medical facility.”
According to LaMalfa, the published performance report of the Oakland VA states that they do not have any open claims older than 125 days. But he displayed photos taken by Oakland whistleblowers purporting to show that tens of thousands of disability applications are “sitting on a cart or a janitor’s closet or in the hallway by the director’s office for years and even decades.
In May 2013, I published a report disclosing that, despite a 40% increase in the VA budget to $140 billion and the paying of $194 million in annual bonuses, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) backlog of disability claims doubled, and claims outstanding for more than a year skyrocketed by 2,000% since 2008.
At the time, the average number of days to process a veteran’s disability claim was 293 days, but veterans filing for the first time in America’s major population centers wait twice as long, with delays of 642 days in New York, 619 days in Los Angeles, and 542 days in Chicago. Despite the published VA performance “metric” to complete all claim determinations in 125 days, 70% of the 900,000 VA claim reviews in progress were outstanding for more than 125 days. Those veterans waiting more than a year for their benefits had grown from 11,000 in 2009 to 245,000 in December 2013.
LaMalfa produced on the House floor a number of signed statements from Oakland employees that VA managers knew that the longer initial disability determinations take to process, the more likely financially desperate veterans can be coerced to forego pursuing disability claims or accept lower disability payment awards.
The signed affidavits appeared to demonstrate that Oakland VA management had reduced claim processing wait times to under the 125 day performance “metric” by systematically denying first time claim filers. Several of the letters indicated that, when employees had spoken out about correctable problems, they were reassigned or reprimanded.
Congressman Doug LaMalfa and his staff have diligently focused on the VA shortcomings since he took office in January 2013. They hope the growing number of VA employees willing to file whistleblower complaints and sign the affidavits LaMalfa put into the Congressional Record today will end the practice of rewarding VA bureaucrats with bonuses for denying honorably earned disability claims.