In the span of less than a month, news reports have emerged detailing some major problems at the VA. Some of these problems are new, and some of them have been lingering for years.
One investigative team looked into the persistent delays of disability claim appeals across the country. They say that almost a half-million veterans have been waiting for years to get a hearing on their appeals. When disability claims get denied by the VA, the VA sends a rejection letter and promises that the veteran is entitled to an appeal hearing, but then the process seems to get stuck there. One veteran, who is simply seeking to get a hearing aid for the damage he says he sustained while training with grenades and jumping out of jets, has been waiting for more than three years. Meanwhile, veterans who are waiting to get their appeals evaluated only experience worsening health without proper medical treatment.
Some hopeful news has recently come in regarding appeals delays, though. Last year, Trump signed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, which promises to revamp the appeals process. Implementing this new program has been delayed by technical issues involving the VA’s computer system, but in the meantime, the VA has implemented the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP). Under RAMP, the VA has hired about 1,500 employees to handle appeals, and veterans are already seeing some promising results.
In other recent VA news, one headline reads, VA Inspector General finds VA disability claims backlog larger than officials reported. The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) has been investigating the sizeable backlog of disability claims since September of 2015, and they’ve found that the VA hasn’t been counting the claims that were waiting for rating approvals for over 125 days from the date of review. That means the backlog has been underestimated by about 21%, which comes to about 63,000 additional claims to the previously reported 239,000. The OIG also found a couple more problems that probably led to the misreported backlog figures. They reported that the VA was improperly processing some rating claims and that claims assistants were lacking proper training and oversight.
In another news story, mass cancellations of orders for radiology tests have raised some suspicions. It started when a radiology technologist at a VA hospital in Iowa City, IA, noticed a wrong cancellation for a particular patient’s CT scan. He then looked into the issue and found lots of possibly erroneous cancellations. The OIG is currently auditing these cancellations at eight different medical centers to see what could be going on. Those VA medical centers are in Denver; Las Vegas; Salisbury, NC; Tampa and Bay Pines, FL; Cleveland; Dallas; and Los Angeles. Staffers in the Iowa City facility have given sworn testimony that they were instructed to clean up thousands of pending orders that they thought were outdated, an action that could have caused this issue. The way they canceled these orders did not follow national VA guidelines for order processing, and similar cancellation procedures are being scrutinized at a Tampa hospital.