BOSTON HERALD: “VA errors ‘an absolute travesty’”

(Washington, April 30, 2017) — The first of a Boston Herald two-part series published today highlighted ongoing errors in processing of veterans’ service-connected disability claims at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Regional Office in Boston, Mass.

According to the Herald’s chief investigative reporter, Jack Encarnacao, the Boston VARO, “has bungled traumatic brain injury claims at an alarming rate, flunking inspections and cutting inaccurate disability checks — shortchanging some local war heroes out of thousands of dollars,” and, “…a 2015 inspection of the Boston VA Regional Office, the most recent one conducted, found an “unacceptable” error rate in assessing the degree of disability in traumatic brain injury claims — one in six of the cases the VA inspector general reviewed that year — despite a warning four years earlier to add more oversight and safeguards.”

Veterans for Common Sense assisted with and was quoted in the story:

Anthony Hardie, director of the D.C. advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense, called the bungled benefits “an absolute travesty.”

“Unfortunately, the veterans who are worst off — the veterans who are the most disabled, who have the most complex claims — they’re the ones that suffer the most when claims staff are not properly trained,” Hardie said. “They’re truly suffering and they’re dependent on VA to get it right quickly, accurately and compassionately.”

In 2011, the Boston VA Regional Office was found to have incorrectly processed 11 of 30 TBI claims randomly selected for review, or 37 percent. The rate had improved to 5 of 30 reviewed cases in 2015, but was still condemned by the VA’s inspector general.

“Despite refresher training and implementation of a second-level review for TBI claims, the current inspection still showed an unacceptable TBI claims processing error rate,” reads the 2015 inspection.

These errors led to mistaken calculations that were used to determine how much a veteran receives in monthly disability benefits

In one case, Boston staff evaluated a veteran’s TBI-related symptoms as only 70 percent disabling, when a review of exams showed they should have been deemed 100 percent disabling. The vet was underpaid by $31,797 over two years.

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Read the full Boston Herald story here:  

http://www.bostonherald.com/news/local_coverage/2017/04/va_errors_an_absolute_travesty

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Coming tomorrow: A local Marine’s struggle to get the VA to correctly diagnose his TBI-related seizures.

Do you have a story to tell about your dealings with the Boston VA Regional Office?  Email the Boston Herald at vatips@bostonherald.com

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Read the actual Inspector General reports here:  

1)  2009 IG Report.  U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of the Inspector General, Office of Audits and Evaluations, VAOIG-09-00189-81:  “Review of VA Regional Office Compensation and Pension Benefit Claim Receipt Dates,” February 27, 2009, https://www.va.gov/oig/52/reports/2009/VAOIG-09-00189-81.pdf.

KEY FINDINGS:

  • “We initiated the review after an investigation by Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) Administrative Investigation Board (AIB) concluded that VARO New York had intentionally reported inaccurate claim receipt dates for 220 (56 percent) of 390 claims reviewed. The objectives of our review were to determine if: (1) other VAROs reported inaccurate claim receipt dates; (2) inaccurate claim receipt dates caused veterans or their beneficiaries to receive incorrect benefit payments; and (3) inaccurate claim receipt dates caused VBA to report incorrect claim-processing times to stakeholders, such as veterans or members of Congress.” (p.i)
  • VARO Boston had an inaccuracy rate of 10 percent, which was significantly higher than the other three VAROs’ rates.” (p.i)
  • “…because VARO Boston had a higher inaccuracy rate, the reliability of its receipt date data needs additional management attention.” (p.10)

2) 2011 IG Report.  VAOIG 10-03564-86:  “Inspection of the VA Regional Office Boston, Massachusetts,” February 11, 2011, https://www.va.gov/oig/52/reports/2011/VAOIG-10-03564-86.pdf.

KEY FINDINGS:

  • “VARO Boston management concurs with the VAOIG finding that 25 claims from the sample of 30 claims reviewed during the audit were processed in error.” (p.20)

  • “VARO staff incorrectly processed 11 (37 percent) of 30 TBI claims. Five of the 11 processing inaccuracies affected veterans’ benefits—2 involved underpayments totaling $41,283 and 3 involved overpayments totaling $30,946.” (p.4)
  • “VARO staff incorrectly processed …20 percentof … herbicide [Agent Orange] exposure-related claims reviewed.” (p.5)
  • “…mailroom staff did not always date stamp mail the same day it arrived in the mailroom as required. This delay occurred because the Support Service Division management and mailroom staff were unaware of VBA’s policy. As a result, beneficiaries may not have received accurate benefit payments.”  (p.12)”
  • …staff did not always manage search mail according to VBA policy. For …13 percent… staff did not properly … ensure timely processing and adequate control of it…. As a result, beneficiaries may not receive accurate payments.” (p.14)
  • “…staff did not always handle original Service Treatment Records (STRs) according to VBA policy.  …27 percent… had claims for benefits either pending or decided without the RVSR reviewing the original STRs. VBA policy requires review of original STRs as part of claims processing. In one example, an RVSR denied service connection for all of the veteran’s claimed conditions without considering the original STRs which were improperly stored.” (p.14)
  • “We recommend the Boston VA Regional Office Director conduct refresher training to ensure Rating Veterans Service Representatives properly evaluate disabilities related to traumatic brain injuries and herbicide exposure-related claims.” (p.21)
  • “We recommend the Boston VA Regional Office Director implement a plan to provide an additional level of review prior to finalizing decisions on traumatic brain injury and herbicide exposure-related claims to ensure accurate benefit payments.” (p.21)

3) 2015 BIG Report.  VAOIG 14-02689-122: “Inspection of the VA Regional Office Boston, Massachusetts,” February 24, 2015, https://www.va.gov/oig/pubs/VAOIG-14-02689-122.pdf

KEY FINDINGS:

  • “Overall, VARO staff did not accurately process 21 (23 percent) of 90 disability claims we reviewed.” (p.i)
  • “VARO staff incorrectly processed 10 of 30 temporary 100 percent disability evaluations we reviewed.” (p.3)

  • “…the veteran was underpaid approximately $6,399 over a period of 1 year and 7 months.” (p.3)
  • “We determined VARO staff incorrectly processed 5 of 30 TBI claims—1 of the errors affected a veteran’s benefits. In that case, an RVSR used an incorrect date to establish benefits for a headache condition associated with TBI. As a result, the veteran was underpaid $7,440 over a period of 1 year and 4 months. The remaining four cases had the potential to affect veterans’ benefits.” (p.5)
  • “VARO staff incorrectly processed 6 of 30 veterans’ claims involving SMC and ancillary benefits—5 errors affected veterans’ benefits and resulted in 100 improper monthly payments totaling approximately $253,379 from May 2010 through May 2014. VARO management agreed with our assessments in all six of the cases.” (p.8)

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