VA office failed to process thousands of disability claims

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The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Oakland office illegally stuffed nearly 14,000 “informal” requests for veterans disability benefits into a cabinet, according to a new report released February 19 by the VA’s Inspector General.

Informal requests are “any type of communication or action indicating intent to apply for one or more benefits,” according to the report. Upon receiving such requests, the VA is required to respond within one year by providing the veteran a formal application for benefits.

The cabinet of 13,841 requests was discovered in November 2012. Many of the requests went back to the mid-1990s. In response, the VA created a special team to complete the 2,155 requests that still required further processing.

In response to complaints of mismanagement by the special team, the IG conducted an investigation of the office in July 2014. It found that the special team still had failed to process 537 claims and that some requests were categorized as “no action necessary” when there was still more to be done.

The revelations are the latest in a string of scandals involving VA mismanagement of disability claims. In the past year, the VA’s IG office has discovered major problems in six offices, including a case in the Baltimore office where 9,500 unprocessed claims were found sitting on an employee’s desk.

“Too many cases have come to light, wherein the VA leaders have destroyed, deleted, hidden and manipulated veterans claims – their very access to benefits and services – and NOT ONE OF THEM has been criminally charged,” Veteran Warrior said in a statement, according to CBS. “It is time for our nations’ leaders to stop listening to the endless ‘lip service’ of accountability and demand answers.”

In the ensuing week, five whistleblowers provided further details about the VA Oakland office to CBS.

Rustyann Brown, who worked in the special team investigating the claims, told CBS that her supervisors deliberately mishandled many of the claims, ordering her to categorize them as “no action necessary,” regardless of if the veteran was dead or alive.

“The VA didn’t help them. The VA didn’t care about them. They took them, they put them in a file, and they stuffed them away,” Brown said.

The full video of CBS’s investigation can be seen here.