VA Office of Inspector General report shows mail left unprocessed and neglected, as VA threatened to cut off veterans’ benefits
(Washington, D.C.)— U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) has called on the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald to take action after a VA Office of Inspector General report showed returned mail, including documents affecting veterans’ benefits, was left unattended at the Seattle VA Regional Office.
The IG report shows the majority of documents left in a yellow bucket were returned Employment Questionnaires needed to continue veterans’ individual unemployability benefits. When the IG investigated, it found some veterans received erroneous notices that their IU benefits would be reduced or discontinued. According to the report, staff did not know how to process the documents, and failed to seek guidance.
In her letter to Secretary McDonald, Sen. Murray wrote: “I am shocked by the findings of this report and I hope you will agree this situation is entirely unacceptable. This is exactly the type of mismanagement and negligence that further complicates the benefits process for veterans, leading to unnecessary stress and unacceptably delaying benefits to which these veterans are entitled.”
The full IG report can be found here.
The full text of Sen. Murray’s letter to Secretary McDonald is below.
September 30, 2015
The Honorable Robert McDonald
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary McDonald:
I write to express my deep concern over the findings of the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) in their recent review Alleged Mismanagement of Mail for Unemployability Benefits at the VA regional Office in Seattle, Washington.
OIG received allegations earlier this year that staff at the Seattle, VA Regional Office (RO) stored more than 1,000 pieces of unprocessed mail, the majority of which were returned Employment Questionnaires needed to continue veterans’ individual unemployability (IU) benefits, in a yellow bucket for several months. The mismanagement of these Employment Questionnaires resulted in veterans with service-connected disabilities receiving unnecessary and inaccurate notifications that their IU benefits would be reduced or discontinued.
OIG found that approximately 20 percent of their sample of affected veterans received erroneous notices that IU benefits would be discontinued, and those veterans documents had been received an average of 66 days earlier. According to the report, RO staff did not know how to process the returned employment questionnaires, and failed to seek assistance or guidance from management.
I am shocked by the findings of this report and I hope you will agree this situation is entirely unacceptable. This is exactly the type of mismanagement and negligence that further complicates the benefits process for veterans, leading to unnecessary stress and unacceptably delaying benefits to which these veterans are entitled. I have long advocated that the benefits system must be streamlined, and that both quality and speed of decisions must improve. As VBA continues to improve its processes it is vital these changes be managed in a way that does not lead to breakdowns in services provided to veterans, as in this case, and your personal oversight will be essential.
Even more troubling, over the last year OIG has initiated similar reviews at multiple ROs to address allegations of mismanagement and data manipulation. I am deeply concerned about this trend and I share OIG’s concerns over VBA’s lack of transparency regarding corrective actions. Any such incident must be fully investigated and appropriate disciplinary action must be taken
against any employee found to be deliberately manipulating data to show false performance. These forms of willful deceit and mismanagement are no less concerning than those regarding wait times for VA health care.
I ask that you act immediately to fulfill the OIG recommendations and take all necessary steps to ensure that these delays in processing IU claims never happen again. I also ask that you provide me with a briefing on the progress made at the Seattle RO within 30 days. Thank you for your attention to these issues, I look forward to your response.
United States Senator