VA Inspector General Reveals Additional Systemic Problems in Veterans’ Benefits

WASHINGTON- On June 6thand June 10th, the VA Inspector General (IG) released two new reports that further illustrate the failings of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). The June 6threport outlined the results of the IG's audit of VBA's use of temporary 100% disability ratings. The June 10threport outlines the results of a routine inspection of the regional office in Reno, Nevada.

"These reports are an indicator of an alarming practice at the Veterans Benefits Administration -- make a few statistics look better but ignore overall service to veterans. We've been raising the alarm for a while that the VA has been allowing work that isn't included in VA's narrow "backlog" statistic to pile up, including appeals and award adjustments that can impact a veteran's bottom line and overall care," said Senator Burr. "But, these reports suggest that the scope of work the VA has been ignoring may be even greater, including training, quality assurance measures, and steps to ensure program integrity. So, is the drop in the VA's backlog all just smoke and mirrors?"

The IG's June 6th report was a follow up to the 2011 report that looked into the accuracy of processing temporary 100% disability ratings. VBA assigns a temporary 100% rating when a veteran is recovering from surgery or undergoing intensive treatment for a service-related disability that otherwise would be rated less than 100% disabling. VA is later supposed to re-evaluate the veteran and determine what disability rating is warranted based on any residual disabilities. In 2011, the IG found that VBA was not monitoring and re-evaluating these temporary ratings. In this follow-up audit, the IG had two key findings:

· "VBA's corrective actions have not fully addressed our concern that the financial stewardship of these claims remains weak and vulnerable to processing benefit payments in excess of veterans' eligibility where medical conditions may be improved"

· "VBA has not established an adequate plan to ensure regional offices . . . conduct a timely review of their temporary 100 percent disability evaluations" and, "[w]ithout management attention, VBA could overpay these veterans a projected $371 million over the next 5 years."

To read the June 6th report, click here.

On June 10th, the IG released the results of a routine inspection of the regional office in Reno, Nevada. The report found that the Reno office was not being timely when following up on cases where veterans had been assigned temporary 100% disability ratings. Leadership from VBA had instructed staff to work on specific claims and did not include instructions regarding doing re-examinations for veterans who had temporary 100% ratings. Reno VA employees were also incorrectly processing claims for traumatic brain injury (TBI), in part because they were relying on insufficient medical examinations and had discontinued quality assurance steps for these claims "due to other organizational priorities."

Also contributing to this lack of knowledge is inadequate training of staff. The IG found that, since 2011, only one individual in the office had completed training on how to process TBI claims. Due to lack of training, Reno staff also was not appropriately awarding special monthly compensation and ancillary benefits to veterans with severe disabilities and employees were unable to recall the last time they received training on how to process these benefits.

Finally, the IG found that the Reno office was not being timely in their processing of benefit reductions. When a veteran's service-related condition improves, VBA is supposed to begin the process for reducing the veteran's disability rating. However, in April 2014, VBA removed the requirement that regional offices take immediate action to reduce disability ratings after due process requirements are met and did not provide clear guidance on how to prioritize this work. Again, VBA management had given the office directions to work on specific types of cases, which did not encompass these benefit reductions. As a result, the office "did not view this workload as a priority."

To read the June 10th report, click here.

To learn more about the Veterans Benefits Administration, click here.