Baltimore VA Under Fire Again for Claims Crisis

Congress Demands Fix, Bergmann & Moore Quoted in Baltimore Sun

In three lengthy news investigations, journalist Yvonne Wenger at the Baltimore Sun aggressively covers the serious claim delay and error crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  As much as advocates and Congress bring attention to the challenges in Baltimore news accounts report that there appears to be little improvement and even some opposition from inside VA.

September 12: Baltimore “VA office excluding veterans from disability program, group says 

The Baltimore Sun reported how a senior official at The American Legion, working with VA to reduce its disability claims backlog, told Congress her organization had encountered an “obstructionist attitude” inside VA’s Baltimore Regional Office.

Verna Jones, a top Legion official in Washington, DC, told the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee how VA officials in Baltimore were “aggressively excluding” Maryland veterans from a program intended to fast-track Veterans’ new disability compensation claims.

Michael Scheibel, director of VA’s Baltimore office, acknowledged to the Baltimore Sun that claims for five Veterans were removed from VA’s Fully Developed Claims program,but he said their case files were missing necessary documents, the Veterans had refused to cooperate, or there were administrative issues. 

September 16: Senator “Mikulski demands Baltimore VA improve ‘lackluster’ performance on key program

The Baltimore Sun reported about a letter sent Monday by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to the VA Secretary Eric Shinseki called on VA’s Baltimore office to develop an action plan within 10 days to improve the agency’s “lackluster” approach to completing Veterans’ claims in an accurate and timely manner.

In Baltimore, VA takes 583 days to complete a Veterans’ new disability claim, and the office makes mistakes in nearly a quarter of all claim decisions.

Mikulski asked Shinseki to provide a schedule for additional training between the Baltimore office leadership and groups such as The Legion.

September 19: “Employees at troubled Baltimore VA office got bonuses” totaling $64,000 

VA employees who perform in an outstanding manner deserve recognition.  However, the Baltimore Sun reported that VA paid employees bonuses of $64,000 over three years while our Veterans waited longer for VA claim decisions that are frequently riddled with mistakes … even as VA’s Baltimore Regional office shipped out (or “brokered”) claims to other offices less buried in claims.

Journalist Yvonne Wenger wrote about how “shuffling the [Veterans’ claims from Baltimore] to other offices manipulates the numbers to show an illusion of progress when problems are just transferred to other parts of the country.  Joe Moore, a partner at the Bethesda-based law firm Bergmann & Moore, said the brokering strategy the VA has used in Baltimore and elsewhere isn’t a solution to the systemic problems at the agency.  He said transferring cases pushes those on appeal — which can take years to resolve — even further to the bottom of the stack.”

Joe Moore said VA is “playing a shell game” with Veterans’ claims.  “What work isn’t being done at another regional office because they are working on these cases from Baltimore?  There are Veterans who are dying waiting for their appeals.”

“They’re shuffling papers on their desk.  Real veterans are losing their homes. Real veterans are dying,” concluded Moore.

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