The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has been involved in a scandal regarding the failure to process valid benefit claims, forcing General Eric Shinseki to resign as Secretary of the department on May 30, 2014. In the latest depressing news, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) published “Review of Alleged Mismanagement of Informal Claims Processing at VA Regional Office Oakland,” confirming allegations by Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) that the Oakland VA Regional Office had not processed nearly 14,000 benefit claims dating back to the mid-1990s.
Despite a 41% to $140 billion budget increase in 2012 that allowed executives to collect annual bonuses of 35% on top of their lavish pay and benefits, VA internal data revealed that the department’s backlog had doubled to over 900,000 for disability claims pending, and that its average wait for processing of first-time claims for veterans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan had increased from 273 days to between 316 and 327 days.
The average increase in the delay for veterans filing for the first time in America’s major population centers was twice as long, with delays of 642 days in New York, 619 days in Los Angeles and 542 days in Chicago. The error rate for claims processing now hovers around 14%, and an average of 53 veterans die each day waiting for their benefits, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.
A Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) management support team, sent to assist with operations of the Oakland Veterans Service Center from October through November 2012, located approximately 14,000 informal claims dating back to the mid-1990s in a file cabinet. Management stated it counted the documents and identified 13,184 informal claims, of which 2,155 informal claims required review or action.
The Oakland Veterans Affairs Regional Office Director was instructed to complete and process all the claims and take appropriate action to provide documentation to certifying that the veterans’ claims are complete. The OIG also instructed the Oakland Veterans Affairs Regional Office Director to implement a plan to train staff on the proper procedures for processing informal claims, and to implement a plan to ensure oversight of staff assigned to process informal claims.
The revelations in the OIG report could re-ignite the scandal regarding the failure of the Veterans’ Administration to timely process claims for America’s heroes coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Americans have always prioritized caring for the needs of our military Veterans. The Continental Congress of 1776 promised pensions for any disabled veteran of the Revolutionary War–and they were subsequently paid in full. Despite criticism of deficit spending over the last four years, there has always been bipartisan support for fully funding the Department of Veteran’s Affairs budget.
The Office of the Inspector General has requested the American public to report any suspected wrongdoing. Details are available at: a href=”http://www.va.gov/oig/hotline”>www.va.gov/oig/hotline.