May 14, 2010

Vets Group Cites Errors Reported by VA Inspector General

Written by Kelly Kennedy

May 12, 2010 (Army Times) - At a conference designed to help veterans service organizations better understand the issues their clients face, Paul Sullivan of Veterans for Common Sense tried to tie it up in a one-page document of new data from the Veterans Affairs Department.

After looking at eight Veterans Benefits Administration regional offices in 2009 and 2010, VA’s inspector general found a 28 percent error rate. In fact, the San Juan, Puerto Rico, overall error rate stood at 41 percent, while the Nashville office had made errors in 52 percent of its post-traumatic stress disorder cases. In Baltimore, 55 percent of cases of diabetes in connection with Agent Orange had errors, and in Roanoke, Va., 49 percent of traumatic brain injury cases had errors.

“VA has a very significant quality problem in adjudicating their claims,” Sullivan said. “VA’s own reports indict the place. VBA is the dam that holds veterans up from getting the medical care they need.”

Sullivan spoke on a panel that detailed what roadblocks remain as service members transition from active duty to veteran status. He said Congress has focused so much on VA health care that the administrative end has gotten lost in the shuffle. “Some of their computers are older than I am,” said Sullivan, who served in the 1991 Gulf War and who used to work for VA.

But Sullivan said the “fixes” aren’t that difficult, at least in concept. For example, the idea of a joint Defense Department/VA medical record system has been fussed about for more than a decade as VA and defense officials say their medical records are not compatible, or that the hand-off violates federal HIPAA rules.

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Other solutions seem simple: There is no undersecretary for benefits. “It there are no leaders, who’s running the place?” Sullivan said. “The agency is leaderless and rudderless.”

He asked that:

• Benefits administration leaders be moved to offices near VA so they could communicate with other VA leaders

• Conditions like traumatic brain injury fall into the presumptive service-connected injury category to streamline the benefits process

• The veterans benefits paperwork be cut down from 23 pages to one page, as it is too complicated for veterans dealing with PTSD or brain injuries

• The benefits administration hire more veterans

“Most people at VA are good-hearted and trying to do their best for the veterans,” Sullivan said. “Their own rules are tying them up.”

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