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Improperly stored claims files put VA office at risk of collapse

A May IG audit of the VA Regional Office in Winston-Salem, N.C., found that the sheer volume of claims paperwork was so overwhelming that it threatened to collapse the building, Time magazine reported Friday.

The inspector general found veterans' claims files stacked nearly to the ceiling and in towering stacks of cardboard boxes. The Aug. 9 report, based on an onsite inspection conducted May 8-18, said the overflowing piles "created an unsafe workspace" for employees and "appeared to have the potential to compromise the integrity of the building."

 OIG outlined several problems in a June 11 memo, including:

  • The storage system "overexposes many claims folders to risk of fire/water damage, inadvertent loss and possible misplacement."
     
  • "We estimated that approximately 37,000 claims folders were stored on top of file cabinets" as well as in boxes along the walls.
     
  • The sixth floor of the facility was "bowing under the excess weight to the extent that the tops of file cabinets were noticeably unlevel throughout the storage area," and a GSA fire inspector said the stacks constituted "an extreme fire load and a possible structural overloading concern."
     
  • Safety managers expressed concerns over "boxes of files blocking exits, flies stacked too close to overhead sprinklers, and files falling from the tops of file cabinets onto employees."

Time reported that following the June 11 memo, VA headquarters relocated many of the files and made "plans for better and safer long-term storage."

Sources: Time, IG report

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