The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continued poor handling of veteran disability compensation claims is once again in the spotlight as multiple VA offices have reportedly been shredding veteran claims-related documents.
VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigations into claims-related document shredding began at the VA’s Los Angeles Regional Office after an initial complaint was filed in January, 2015. Expanded and unannounced investigations took place at 10 Regional VA Offices across the country on July 20, 2015. The OIG team obtained around 438,000 documents destined for the shredder and found 155 documents that were related to veteran disability compensation claims. The reports, released Thursday, April 14, 2016, identified 69 of the 155 claims-related documents were “improperly scheduled for destruction”, and six out of ten VA Regional Offices did not “properly associate” documents with veterans’ claims folders. The report concluded improper handling and destruction of claims related documents is a systemic issue throughout the VA.
The 69 claims-related documents were identified as:
- 2 affecting benefits
- 9 had the potential to affect benefits
- 58 did not affect benefits, but were required to be filed in the claims folder or in the electronic system before destruction
While the number of documents found to be improperly handled appears low, the effect on Veterans should not be minimized. The VA has 56 Regional Offices with regular shredding schedules and many more Veterans could be affected by the mishandling of claims related documents. The findings are an important reminder to Veterans to always keep your own copies of personal files and documents when filing a claim with the VA.
According to the reports the biggest offender was the Atlanta Regional Office. Out of 71 documents reviewed 55 were incorrectly placed in the shred bin; 1 affecting benefits, 2 potentially affecting benefits, and 52 that did not directly affect benefits.
Other VA Regional Offices reviewed included Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, New Orleans, Oakland, Philadelphia, Reno, San Juan, and St. Petersburg.
The OIG investigation and report concluded that:
- Management and staff did not safeguard paper records
- Noncompliance with policy, inadequate controls and outdated guidance contributed to the improper handling and potential destruction
- Policy of required signatures was not followed
- Annual training was not provided
- Inadequate Policy –
- inadequate controls to ensure proper handling
- no standardized procedures
- not updated to include electronic claims processing
- VA Office of Inspector General, Office of Audits and Evaluations, Review of Claims-Related Documents Pending Destruction at VA Regional Offices, Report 15-04652-146, dated April 14, 2016. The entire report can be viewed at http://www.va.gov/oig/pubs/VAOIG-15-04652-146.pdf.
- VA Office of Inspector General, Office of Audits and Evaluations, Review of Alleged Shredding of Claims-Related Evidence at the VA Regional Office Los Angeles, California, Report 15-04652-266 dated April 14, 2016. The entire report can be viewed at http://www.va.gov/oig/pubs/VAOIG-15-04652-266.pdf.