WRITTEN BY CHRISS W. STREET
My May report disclosed that despite a 40% increase in budget and approximately $194 million in annual bonuses, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) backlog of disability claims doubled, and claims outstanding for more than a year skyrocketed by 2000% since 2008. The burgeoning scandal appeared to cause the VA to suspend bonuses. But my sources inside the VA confirm that executives who “Slow Walk” disability claim approvals received quarterly “Payout Savings Incentive” (PSI) payments on June 28, 2013. Staff at the VA refers to that activity as: “Deny, Delay and Wait Until They Die.”
According to Congressional reports, the driving force for increasing VA funding from $100 billion to $140 billion since 2008, was to expanding staff in order to expedite the adjudication of disability applications. However, since September of 2010 staffing at the VA’s 58 regional offices increased by less than 300 people – even as the volume of new claims increased dramatically.
The average number of days to process a veteran’s disability claim is now 293 days, but veterans filing for the first-time in America’s major population centers wait twice as long, with delays of 642 days in New York, 619 days in Los Angeles and 542 days in Chicago. Despite the published VA performance “metric” to complete all claim determinations in 125 day, 70% of the 900,000 VA claim reviews in progress have been outstanding for more than 125 days. Those veterans waiting more than a year for their benefits also grew from 11,000 in 2009 to 245,000 this December.
A study by the American Action Forum released just ahead of the July 4th holiday seemed to blame the delays on the “tangle of paperwork facing America’s veterans — showing they’re up against as many as 613 forms across 18 agencies as they seek services.” The study also found “the paperwork — in part the result of roughly 31 million Veterans Affairs claims alone each year — takes federal employees roughly 43.3 million hours to process.”
The bureaucratic nightmare the Forum talks about is real, but these statistics are just part of the smoke screen that VA management wields to dissuade qualified disabled veterans from continuing the battle to receive the benefits they have honorably earned. Sources tell me that the computer tracking of files is much more organized and sophisticated than the supposedly over-worked VA managers will acknowledge.
According to my sources, the VA managers know that the longer initial disability determinations take to process, the more likely financially desperate veterans can be coerced into accepting lower disability payment awards. Most claims are ultimately approved after a long delay, but the future benefit payments and accrued back-pay are usually trimmed down to only half of the medically justified payment levels.
Employees at the Oakland California VA Regional Office refer to these schemes as “Short Changing” veterans. National statistics for VA disability adjudications reveal that only 40% of homeless veterans ever reapply for disability benefits after being initially denied and an average of 53 veterans die each day before their disability determination is approved. In Oakland, the files of veterans that die before their claims are adjudicated are routed to the infamous “blue tub,” before being sent to off-site storage. Many Oakland complain these dicey tactics are the cause of severe job stress.
Feeling the heat from investigators, the VA announced they cut the backlog of claims by 15% in the last weeks of June. But my sources believe the reduction was the result of increasing the percentage of claims denied in order to maximize “Payout Savings Incentive” at the end of the quarter.
Americans have always prioritized caring for the needs of our military veterans. The Continental Congress of 1776 made the commitment to provide pensions for any disabled veteran of the Revolutionary War. Our Founding Fathers kept their commitment to veterans and we as a nation must fulfill our duty to honestly provide the benefits earned by our disabled veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Rewarding VA bureaucrats with bonuses for denying benefits honorably earned is despicable and must end now!
CHRISS STREET & PAUL PRESTON
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