The wait-list scandal at the VA has been shown to be a nationwide phenomenon, and with the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, national interest on the scandal has continued to rise. Proof has been uncovered that shows that VA officials indeed falsified records to make it appear that they were hitting goals and meeting quotas. While the severity of the scandal varied from hospital to hospital, the degree to which it is occurring is disturbing, to say the least. While the VA was generally reporting that veterans were getting scheduled appointments within 30 days of arriving, in truth the average wait time for veterans seeking care is 115 days. As if this tragedy weren’t enough for the VA to deal with, it seems that similar efforts were made to meet similar goals on a different front – benefits payments.
Just over a year ago, the backlog for veterans’ benefits claims began to make headlines, and enormous political pressure and public visibility caused the VA to make very aggressive goals to eliminate the backlog by 2015. However, a growing amount of evidence and witnesses testify that the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has deliberately manipulated data to make it appear as though they were meeting their performance targets. Allegations also include that the VBA “…fostered a corrosive culture in which accountability is scarce and managers punish workers who report wrongdoing.” (Washington Post)
The claims were substantiated by the office of the VA Assistant Inspector General – Linda Halliday. Halliday testifies that they were able to verify that claims processors in the Philadelphia office were manually changing dates for older benefits claims to make them appear more recent, thereby making it seem that the VA office was hitting its performance quotas. Eerily similar to the uncovering of the VA waiting list scandal, as the original allegations were investigated and found to be true, more allegations and complaints began cropping up around the country. While each case will need to be investigated independently to ascertain whether the issue was present in each office, the VA seems to be preparing for the worst, and expecting that the problem will be widespread.
Just recently, the VA made a statement in which they explained that the changing of dates for claims was a result of misinterpretation of a leadership memo sent out by the Director of the VBA, which gave processors the ability to mark claims that had previously been overlooked with the date that they were found, or “discovered”. Speaking editorially, it seems odd that the VA would mean anything other than what resulted from the guidance, since it clearly states that processors can change the date on an old claim. However, the VA undersecretary testified that the guidance was given in an effort to allow processors to approve old or buried claims without having to require the applicants to get new examinations by doctors to verify their current condition. Since medical examinations have to occur within a certain amount of time before the claims application can be approved, this guidance would seemingly speed up the process considerably.
It does clearly state in the memo that any time the “discover date” is used on the claim instead of the submission date, approval from a higher-up and a clear explanation must be provided to justify the decision. Unfortunately, as the VA inspector general’s office found in a review of 30 of these cases from last month, not a single one was in full compliance with the guidelines. It also seems to be the case that the order often came from managers to manually change dates “on any claims, regardless of the circumstances, if they were older than a certain date.” To add to the implication that management knew they were bending the rules, a VA leadership memo said, “There will be no negative consequences for you, the employees, as a result of following this guidance. The only possible negative consequences are those that exist if we fail to meet our goals for this project and for any actions that keep us from doing so.”
For some, this growing VA scandal is mismanagement and unethical dealings on a high level. For others, it represents the threat and danger associated with expansive government and bureaucracy to the health and safety of citizens.