Oct 31, VA WatchDog Updates Shredder Scandal: Veterans’ Computerized Records Subject to Tampering by VA


A denied VA claim is just a click away. Altering files and changing dates all too common.

October 31, 2008 – They have names like COVERS, VACOLS and MAP-D.  They are just a few of the computer software programs used by the Veterans’ Benefits Administration (VBA) of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) to process a veteran’s claim.

And, they are all subject to tampering.

Recent revelations of documents vital to veterans’ claims showing up in shredder bins at VBA’s Regional Offices (VAROs) and further revelations that thousands of pieces of unopened mail were found have captured the interest of veterans and their veterans’ service organizations (VSOs). 

Full background here: http://www.vawatchdog.org/VAshredderscandal.htm

But, nothing has been said about computer tampering as the VBA moves toward electronic processing of claims.

Now, we find that it’s just as easy for a claim to be delayed or denied by the simple click of a computer mouse as it is to achieve the same result by dumping a document in a shredder bin.

The following information was developed from interviews with current and former VBA employees.  Much of the information is highly-technical, so I’ve eliminated most of the “geek speak” and used examples that are, for the most part, easy to understand.

One of the easiest ways to tamper with VBA’s computers is to simply change the date.  This is accomplished at the employee’s Windows-based computer at their desk.  They simply open up the date/time menu and set back the date to whatever is desired.  Then, they can make entries and generate documents on that “adjusted” date… documents that never existed on that “adjusted date.”

“MAP-D .. this program contains all claims listed over at least the last 5 years, including all notations, and cannot be deleted — even though information can be ‘added or adjusted’ by altering the date on the user’s START menu in Windows… the server views the information as being updated on whatever day is set in the Windows Program Menu.”

“[A VBA employee] can cover themselves by stating in notes that an issue was resolved, or that the Veteran Service Rep that was working the claim had called the veteran and told him to resend information because it was never received. With the truth being that the veteran was never called, and then it becomes the VA’s word against the veteran, only that the VA now has a paper trail that they created after the fact.”

Here’s information about the COVERS program and an operation known as “rebuilding” the folder.

“This program shows the entire history of the veteran’s claim file electronically. These files are barcoded, and tracked through scanners. If the file is ever lost or destroyed, it will be listed as a ‘rebuilt folder’ which is being seen more frequently, and then it becomes an issue of the VA’s word against the veteran’s as to what information was actually in the claim folder.”

“This was at the XXXXX VARO. Veteran sent in a claim on the 3rd of the month for temporary 100{cd9ac3671b356cd86fdb96f1eda7eb3bb1367f54cff58cc36abbd73c33c82e1d} disability. On the 9th, the Triage dept acknowledged that the claim from the veteran and original documentation from the VAMC doctor was received and being sent to the Pre-Development Team. The claim was suddenly cancelled for no reason on the 14th of the same month, the veteran was never notified, and the veteran never wrote in anything to have his claim cancelled. This claim was started, and cancelled within just 11 days! The history of the claim showed that the folder was currently being ‘rebuilt’ due to the fact that the ENTIRE CLAIM FILE was ‘lost’ or ‘destroyed.'”

If you think the above is bad, how about the same thing happening with claim appeals.  Here’s a look at the VACOLS program.

“This appeals program is used to track the progress of the appeal, including a full history of all of the veteran’s appeals. Understand that it is quite easy to end an appeal by simply stating that a letter was sent to the veteran and required a response in 60 days. This letter will 90 – 95 {cd9ac3671b356cd86fdb96f1eda7eb3bb1367f54cff58cc36abbd73c33c82e1d} of the time, never be scanned or even acknowledged as being sent, yet the appeal will be decided after the letter was ‘never returned’ because it was actually never mailed to the veteran. This will close the appeal with the reasoning that the veteran failed to respond, and therefore, his claim was closed and denied. The veteran is never notified of this happening, and believes the entire time that the appeal is still being processed.”

One of the ugliest uses of computer tampering is to put the blame back on the veteran when, in reality, the veteran has done everything by the book.

“If a veteran calls the VA and it is reported that the veteran has sent in a XXXXX form for the 8th time, all by certified mail, yet still the VA has not acknowledged the claim being received for the past four months, and these calls have been documented in notes through the MAP-D program, and now the veteran states that he is involving his Congressman since he feels his claim is being thrown in the trash as soon as it is received — the VA supervisor that notices the inquiry sent in by the Call Center employee about a review of the veteran’s file to see if the form was overlooked, and the supervisor is well aware that those claims are being shredded before they are inputted in the system as being received, decides that they need to cover themselves before the Congressional Inquiry is made to come in and review the physical file. This is done by changing the date in the Windows Menu, going into the MAP-D program and simply making a note from a date six weeks prior, showing that the veteran’s claim was received, however it was returned to him because it was not signed, or properly filled out, or was only half-way filled out. This changes the issue… and now the doubt is placed on the veteran, and a review would support the VA as following procedure and the veteran as not doing what they were supposed to.”

After reading the above, the question that needs to be asked is:  Can a “date adjusted” computer file be used to generate a hard copy document that ends up in a veteran’s file… a real piece of paper?

“The answer is yes. The system bases it’s date info off of the windows program. So if that is changed, then the date in MAP-D follows, from where the letter is written.”

I could go on for many more pages with examples like these.

Besides the veteran, other losers in this data manipulation game are veterans’ service officers (SOs) who help veterans file claims and attorneys who practice veterans’ law.  I can’t tell you how many times veterans have written me claiming that their SO or attorney never sent in a form or screwed-up their claim in some way.  Now, there’s another explanation.

How much of this type of cyber-crime is going on at VBA?  It’s impossible to tell because there’s virtually no way to track it.  I’ve been told it’s commonplace because “a closed file is a good file,” and makes everyone from the bottom up at the VARO appear to be more efficient.

As the VA tries to run and hide from the shredder scandal, the Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) continues to investigate documents in shredder bins, unopened mail and other mishandled documents.

Now, it’s time for VAOIG to put their cyber-crime experts to work.

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