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Senator seeks answers after watchdog finds VA made $5.5 billion in improper payments

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., asks a question about an Air National Guard airlift wing during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016.

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 2, 2017

WASHINGTON — The ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee is seeking answers from the Department of Veterans Affairs after a VA watchdog found the agency made $5.5 billion in improper payments last year.

The amount of improper payments increased by $500 million from the previous year, according to a report released in May from the VA Office of Inspector General. An improper payment can be either an over- or underpayment and is defined as one that “should not have been made or that was made in an incorrect amount.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., sent a letter last week to VA Secretary David Shulkin, asking for his detailed plans to reduce the amount of money spent improperly.

The improper payments were largely made through two VA health care programs in 2016 – VA community care, which allows veterans to seek care in the private sector, and a program that helps the elderly and chronically ill.

The community care programs recorded an improper payment rate of 75 percent, meaning three out of four payments made through the program shouldn’t have been made or were for an incorrect amount. The other program had a rate of 69 percent, according to the inspector general’s report. Both made more improper payments in 2016 than in 2015.

The inspector general found the VA didn’t fully comply with the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act, which requires federal agencies to review and report on major programs that are susceptible to improper payments.

“Given the importance of eliminating waste, fraud and abuse and the scale of taxpayer spending on these programs, proper adherence to [the act] is warranted,” McCaskill wrote.

In response to the inspector general report, VA Chief Financial Officer Edward Murray wrote the agency was “committed to stopping inconsistent compliance with laws and regulations” and is “working diligently to reduce improper payments.”

The inspector general did find improvements from 2015 to 2016 in three benefits programs – compensation, pension and the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

wentling.nikki@stripes.com
Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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