Words by Wes O’Donnell, Managing Editor, InMilitaryEducation.com
An unimaginable amount of veterans waiting for care through the VA system died before their applications were even processed, according to a recent report released by the VA inspector general last week.
The investigation found that approximately 889,000 health care applications were stalled in a pending status, of which more than 300,000 belonged to those of veterans who had died months or years before. In addition, due to the limitations of the systems data gathering, these numbers did not necessarily account for those veterans actively pursuing enrollment in the VA health care system.
The inspector general began the investigation in response to the House Committees on Veterans Affairs request after being alerted of potential wrongdoings by Scott Davis, one of the VA’s Health Eligibility Center’s employee. The investigation showed that unprocessed applications were being improperly marked by VA staffers as complete as well as the possibility of over 10,000 records having been deleted over the past five years.
Some of the cases brought to life by the IG’s investigation were those such as a veteran who had waited over 14 years for his application to be processed and when found was still in a “pending” status. Another is that of a veteran who had died in 1988, yet his record was found among those in 2014 still unprocessed awaiting completion.
A number of factors have led to this gross mismanagement of the VA health care enrollment system. Among these short comings are the absence of the proper procedures to oversee record information, glitches within the software systems and the lack of procedures that update information on those veterans who have died and need to be removed from the system.
According to the IG report the VA enrollment office “has not effectively managed its business processes to ensure the consistent creation and maintenance of essential data” and “has not adequately established procedures to identify individuals who have died, including those with pending health care enrollment records”. Previous reports had indicated that VA employees stuffed unprocessed applications in their desk for later attention and were never disciplined for these actions.
In a report to the Huffington Post, whistle-blower Scott Davis stated that thousands of veteran’s returning from Afghanistan and Iraq had their enrollment records place mistakenly in the backlogs and never received the care they deserved. As a result of this delay many of these veterans have surpassed the five year eligibility window allowed to them and can no longer receive care. During this interview Davis also remarked “VA wants you to believe, by virtue of people being able to get health care elsewhere, it’s not a big deal, but VA is turning away tens of thousands of veterans eligible for health care. VA is making it cumbersome, and then saying, ‘See? They didn’t want it anyway’”. He also indicated that he had previously tried to warn both the VA inspector general and Congress as well as senior VA officials and the White House that problems existed with the Health Eligibility Center records but was ignored.
Davis appeared on Fox and Friends in 2014 at which time he revealed that in response to him voicing his complaints about the VA’s enrollment issues he was harassed and retaliated against by his employers. He was told he must sign a notice stating that he agreed to never publicly speak about the VA’s issues in the future. Mr. Davis refused to sign this statement.
The VA a statement in response to the investigation and its findings, as reported by CNN, stated it “continues the efforts outlined in previous blogs and public responses to contact veterans with a record in a pending status … to determine if they desired to enroll in VA healthcare. We have been reaching out to veterans to let them know the additional information needed so that we may complete their application”. Over 300,000 letters requesting additional information be submitted to complete enrollment have been sent out to veterans as of June 30th of this year and as a result approximately 34,500 of those who received these letters have been enrolled for care.
The VA agency went on further to say “Our mission is to provide timely access to earned health care and benefits for millions of veterans. That is a responsibility that we do not take lightly”. Chairman of the House VA Committee Rep. Jeff Miller stated “No veteran should ever fall through the cracks when attempting to receive the care they have earned”.