VA under fire for plan to review all post-traumatic stress disorder claims
WASHINGTON — Veterans groups and House Democrats blasted VA plans to review all post-traumatic stress disorder claims because of irregularities in their compensation system, calling it insulting to heroes who have served their country.
“To the VA, this is simply a process seeking out voids in paperwork,” said Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M, at a Thursday hearing on Capitol Hill. “But to veterans, it’s a jolting realization that their day-to-day struggles are being questioned again.”
In August, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced plans to review 72,000 cases where veterans had received a 100 percent disability rating for post-traumatic stress disorder, after an investigation of 2,100 such cases found that more than 25 percent lacked justification for those claims.
Jon Wooditch, acting inspector general for the department, said Thursday that the goal of the comprehensive review was not to cut benefits but to find reasons behind inconsistencies in the way claims are rewarded.
For example, in Illinois, only about 2.8 percent of PTSD cases receive the 100 percent rating, and the average yearly payment for treatment is $6,961. But in New Mexico, more than 12 percent of PTSD receive that highest disability claim, and the payment average there is $12,004.
“We want to make sure everyone is receiving what they’re entitled to under the law,” he said.
But critics called it a way for the department to save money by shirking its duty to care for disabled veterans. Quentin Kinderman, deputy director of legislative service for the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, called the IG report flawed and the proposed review a waste of money.
“There is very little potential to reduce the number of cases here,” he said. “And we’ve very concerned about the impact of the review and publicity on veterans, especially those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, who need the kind of counseling that the VA can provide.”
Democrats echoed those concerns, and called for a halt to plans to review the cases.
Udall said in one case, a veteran in his district committed suicide after hearing about plans for the review. Officials from New Mexico found the man, a Vietnam veteran, with information regarding the review beside his Purple Heart when he took his life.
“The manner in which [VA officials] have proceeded has done more harm than good,” he said.
Cynthia Bascetta, director of income security issues at the Government Accountability Office, said the VA does need to review how it handles cases for efficiency purposes, but she told the committee the department’s proposed approach is flawed.
She said officials need to sample both completed claims cases and rejected applications to find inefficiencies and mistakes in the process, which Democrats also asked for.
Ranking member Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., also questioned the review, noting that federal law prohibits veterans benefits from being revoked unless officials can prove fraud occurred.
Wooditch said cases reviewed that lacked evidence to prove the 100 percent PTSD disability claim were likely not the result of fraud, but instead simple mistakes in paperwork or administrative review.