IG Finds VBA Errors in Almost Half of Claims Reviewed
As part of our expanding coverage of the worsening claim delay and error crisis at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), we turn our attention to Anchorage, Alaska. Our northern-most state is our nation’s largest in terms of land mass, yet one of our smallest in population. According to VA, there are approximately 77,000 Veterans in Alaska. Among those, more than 15,000 Veterans received VA compensation or pension in 2011. That’s about one-in-five Alaska veterans who rely on VBA for monthly disability payments.
Anchorage Alaska’s Error Problem
On January 3, 2013, VA’s Office of the Inspector General (VAOIG) issued a scathing report of a VBA Regional Office (RO) routinely unable to accurately process claims for our disabled Veterans. Although a small sample of risky claims, VAOIG’s audit of Anchorage, Alaska found 18 errors out of 38 claim decisions reviewed. That’s a disappointing 47 percent error rate, or nearly half. VA’s OIG reported:
The Anchorage VARO lacked adequate controls and accuracy in processing claims for temporary 100 percent disabilities and TBI. VARO staff incorrectly processed 18 of the total 38 disability claims we sampled. These errors resulted in overpayments to veterans totaling $139,177 and underpayments valued at $19,220. VARO management agreed with our findings and began to correct the errors identified. We sampled claims related only to specific conditions that we considered at higher risk of processing errors. As a result, the errors identified do not represent the universe of disability claims processed at this VARO.
In addition to VAOIG audits, VBA conducts larger, on-going internal reviews (without listing how many and what types of claims were actually reviewed). As of October 2012, VBA’s Aspire web site reported a 19.4 percent error rate, nearly ten times higher than VBA’s goal of two percent. That’s disgraceful, and it harms our Veterans who are forced to file endless appeals.
Anchorage Alaska’s Delay Problem
In addition to systemic and chronic errors processing Veterans’ disability compensation claims, VBA’s Alaska RO forces our Veterans to wait unreasonable lengths of time for a claim decision.
As of December 31, 2012, VBA’s Anchorage RO had 2,700 claims pending. Among those waiting for a VBA decision, more than 70 percent languished more than 125 days. VBA’s repeatedly stated promise to our Veterans is to process all claims within 125 days.
Remember this number for Alaska: 456 days. According to VBA’s Aspire, our wounded, injured, ill, and disabled Veterans living in Alaska suffer more than 15 months waiting, on average, for VBA to decide a claim. Alaska just might be the last frontier where Veterans’ claims sit on ice indefinitely during this long winter. Only Chicago, Waco, and New York ranked worse.