Veterans denied millions in benefits by VA
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 30, 2016
WASHINGTON — Roughly $110 million in payments to thousands of housebound veterans was withheld from them by the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a new report from VA inspector general’s office.
The IG report found approximately 186,000 veterans as of March 2015 were designated as housebound because of illness or injury with errors in payments to about 33,400 of them. Others did receive payments, but they were delayed anywhere from five days to six years.
The report also found some veterans who were not designated as housebound received $44.3 million in money meant for housebound veterans.
“Staff did not accurately address housebound benefits,” the report concluded. “As a result, some veterans did not receive benefits to which they were entitled, while taxpayer funds were wasted paying other veterans who did not meet the eligibility criteria.”
The IG report blamed the errors on a faulty electronic system, poor training and management allowing VA staff to “arbitrarily decide these claims.”
This is not the first time that VA’s technology has been criticized. In its final report released in the summer, the Commission on Care – a board established to propose recommendations for VA reform – called the VA’s technology “antiquated” and “disjointed.” The commission called for a new system that would, in part, better allow the health care side of VA to communicate with staffers making benefits decisions.
In response to the IG report, the VA’s office of the undersecretary for benefits said it was working on technology changes. The office also said it would start an annual review of benefits going to housebound veterans. The first review is scheduled for October.
Meanwhile, Michael Missal, the VA’s new inspector general, told a House committee earlier this week that he’s working to expand inspections into the VA’s benefits programs. The committee met about another IG report that found veterans in prison had received $104 million in overpayments between 2008 and 2015.
The IG now has three teams dedicated to reviewing the Veterans Benefits Administration, Missal told the committee.
In this latest report, the IG cited one example of a veteran who had one illness or injury rated as 100 percent disabling, plus other disabilities. As of February 2015, the veteran was being underpaid by about $350 per month. During nine years, the VA had not paid $36,100 to the veteran. The error was fixed in October 2015.
In another case, a veteran who was temporarily housebound continued receiving extra payments even after he had recovered. He had been overpaid approximately $154,000 during four and a half years, the report stated. The VA corrected the payments in May.
Besides updating some of its technology and starting an annual review of housebound benefits, the VA said it would require more training. The changes will be put into effect in the remainder of 2016, according to the VA’s response.