Claims errors cost VA $943M
Inspectors said the most stubborn, chronic mistake made by Veterans Affairs claims examiners while trying to dig their way out of a growing backlog of cases is overcompensating some veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs overpaid 12,800 veterans $943 million from 1993 to 2009, according to projections by the VA's Office of Inspector General. And if the error isn't corrected, inspector general auditors said $1.1 billion more could be wasted by 2016.
The VA said the projections are significantly overstated, but is fixing the problem. The House Veterans Affairs Committee plans to hold a hearing on the issue in February.
The mistakes occur in a narrow batch of cases where veterans temporarily receive a 100 percent disability rating while undergoing surgery or debilitating treatments and convalescing.
Claims examiners have repeatedly failed — often in two out of three sampled cases — to seek a follow-up medical exam to determine whether the veteran's condition has improved and the temporary 100 percent disability rating should be reduced accordingly, inspectors said. The results are veterans who improve or recover, but receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation over years for a level of disability they no longer have, inspectors said.
“That (rating) will run forever until somebody like us stumbles upon it,” said Brent Arronte, a director of inspections.
The 100 percent rating legally bars the VA from recouping overpayments that inspectors say have occurred, the department said.
A common error involves cancer treatment where the disease stabilizes or goes into remission, according to inspector general reports. In one case, a veteran who improved after being treated for non-Hodgkin lymphoma was overpaid $237,000 over 7 1⁄2 years until the mistake at a Cleveland VA office was caught by inspectors, according to a September report.
Inspectors said claims examiners either fail to schedule follow-up exams when the disability rating is put in place, or fail to act when alerted that one is necessary.
“We're a little frustrated,” Sondra McCauley, deputy assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations, said of the overpayments. “It's a human-error thing.”
The VA said fixes were put in place in July to help ensure follow-up exams are scheduled. In addition, the claims process is to become fully automated this year, and claims examiners will be alerted automatically that exams may be necessary, said Lois Mittelstaedt, VA benefits administration chief of staff.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Officials: 1 dead, 3 wounded in Northern Arizona University shooting
- Officials: Broken rail caused February W.V. train derailment
- McCarthy drops out as GOP speaker candidate in shocker
- Civil servants’ pay, benefits exceed private-sector counterparts, Cato study finds
- Dozens of terror plots disrupted in America, FBI claims
- Broadening police collection of license plate photos spurs privacy discussion
- Oregon college town sets gun rights protest for Obama visit
- Coal industry seeks unusual partner in UN green climate fund
- Alaska to feel remnants of former Hurricane Oho
- Longtime Mars lakes tantalize NASA scientists
- Ohio teacher accused in husband’s vehicular death gets job back