VA Regional Office in Columbia, South Carolina Still Miserably Failing Veterans

New government report exposes more serious problems at Columbia’s VARO.

The Veterans Affairs Regional Office (VARO) in Columbia, South Carolina, which has been mired in controversy for several years, evidently still can’t get its act together and properly serve Veterans.

Last November, CNN reported that Veterans at Columbia’s VARO who were waiting months for simple gastrointestinal procedures such as a colonoscopy or endoscopy died because their cancers were not caught in time.

This week, the VA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a scathing new report which found that Columbia staff did not accurately process 36 (40 percent) of 89 disability claims reviewed.

Specifically, 22 of 29 temporary 100 percent disability evaluations reviewed were inaccurate, generally because staff did not adequately process reminder notifications for medical reexaminations, the report said.

Shockingly, the report also found that Columbia’s staff incorrectly processed 10 of 30 traumatic brain injury (TBI) claims, primarily by using insufficient medical examination reports, and that staff did not accurately complete 18 of 30 proposed benefits reduction cases because management did not prioritize this work.

The OIG recommended that Columbia’s VARO Director implement a plan to ensure staff take timely action on reminder notifications and that staff receive training on properly completing TBI claims and implement a plan to ensure prompt action on rating reductions.

If all this sounds painfully familiar, it should. Three years ago, an OIG inspection of Columbia’s VARO concluded that its staff “lacked effective controls” in processing some disability claims, did not schedule future medical exams as required, performed “inadequate quality assurance” for TBI and herbicide exposure-related claims, and did not adequately process 33 (32 percent) of the 104 disability claims reviewed.

Just as they did in 2011, Columbia’s VARO managers agreed with the OIG’s recommendations and promised to fix what was broken. But will they? This VA office is a disgrace. It has been a model of inefficiency and poor care for our Veterans for far too long.

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