The Current State of the VA


The Backlog to Get on the Backlog


The VA inspector general has published a report that goes into detail in researching the current state of the VA health care system, prompted in large part by the VA health care scandals that came to light last year. According to the report, nearly 900,000 veterans have pending health care applications with the VA. To be clear, “These are not veterans waiting for care. These are veterans who are applying for the privilege of waiting for care…And as of last year, there [were] more than 867,000 of them whose applications just to get in line at the VA were not processed.” said CNN’s Drew Griffin.


Speeding up the BacklogWhat is worse is that more than 300,000 of those veterans are believed to be dead. Unfortunately, widespread issues with the VA’s data, which includes problems and inaccuracies with many important identifying figures makes it impossible to determine how many have actually died. Our veterans are literally dying because they are not receiving the care that they were promised when they enlisted. There is no such thing as an acceptable excuse for this situation. I’ll ask the obvious question: how on earth is such absurdly awful and negligent service even possible? Can the inaccuracies and terrible data entry really be blamed on a lack of funding? Is a record-keeper’s ability to type numbers into a computer really contingent on whether that person is making $11/hour or $12/hour?


I can see the case for more funding when we’re talking about veterans whose applications have been processed and are waiting for care; more funding is required if you are going to hire enough practitioners to cover the demand, but we’re not talking about that waitlist; we’re talking about the wait list to get on that waitlist. This is before a doctor ever gets involved – this is the process of determining whether the veteran is entitled to health care benefits from the VA in the first place. Here is some information taken directly from the VA Inspector General’s report:


“We substantiated the existence of about 867,000 pending records as of September 30, 2014. However, due to limitations in the Health Eligibility Center’s (HEC) Enrollment System (ES) data, we could not reliably determine how many pending records existed as a result of applications for health care benefits. These records were coded as pending because they had not reached a final determination status. However, the number of pending records in ES was overstated and did not necessarily represent veterans actively seeking enrollment in VA health care. Further, most of the pending records have been inactive for many years.


The data limitations occurred because the enrollment program does not adequately define, collect, or manage enrollment data to monitor the performance of application processing. In addition, VA guidance did not require that applications reach a final determination in a set timeframe or establish how long ES records may remain in a pending status. Unless substantial action is taken to address the quality of ES data, the HEC cannot reliably monitor enrollment performance nationally or make program-level decisions using this data.


To determine whether a backlog of pending health care applications existed, we extracted all records from ES as of September 30, 2014, and identified 866,879 records coded as pending without a final enrollment determination. We analyzed a statistical sample of the pending records, obtained copies of available applications, and reviewed enrollment application dates, when possible. In addition, we reviewed the length of time each sample record had been in a pending status. Finally, we interviewed and obtained testimonial and documentary evidence from VA officials and complainants.


We also identified a large, unevaluated data category in ES called “locked” records. A “locked” record has a blank enrollment status and generally contains incomplete or inconsistent information. About 6.2 million (28 percent) of the 22.3 million records in ES have a blank status and are “locked.” However, the HEC has no automated method for identifying which “locked” records represent legitimate requests for enrollment in VA’s health care system.”


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