VA Inspector General Report: 307,000 Veterans May Have Died Waiting For Health Care

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Sep 02, 2015 9:08 PM
VA Inspector General Report: 307,000 Veterans May Have Died Waiting For Health Care

Editor's Note: Headline has been changed. The unreliable processing/data collection within the VA's Enrollment System regarding health claims means that it's possible that 307,000 may have died while awaiting health care. We don't know for sure since the system was never updated on a consistent basis, nor did they have "adequate procedures" to do so. It's still a disgrace. 

Concerned Veterans For America's CEO, Pete Hegseth, released this statement about Wednesday's IG report:

“Wednesday's OIG report reinforces what Concerned Veterans for America has been saying for years — the VHA is desperately in need of reform. Measures such as the VA Accountability Act, along with the proposals included in CVA’s bipartisan “Fixing Veterans Health Care” report, are a necessary first step to ensuring that the VA is equipped to adequately respond to veterans’ needs and provide the timely care they deserve.

The VA’s failure to establish and enforce basic quality controls led to thousands of veterans having their benefits delayed, and, in many cases, denied. Worse, due to the department’s abysmal record-keeping policies, we don’t even know for sure how many veterans suffered needlessly or died while waiting for care. What is clear, however, is that nearly a year and a half after the VA wait list scandal began, the VA is still struggling to provide hundreds of thousands of veterans health care in a timely and efficient manner.”

Before Dan Doherty departed, he wrote about how the Veterans Affairs estimated that hundreds of thousands of veterans that were backlogged had died. At the time, Scott Davis, a program specialist at the VA Health Eligibility Center, divulged a report that was conducted within his department and that of the VA Office of Analytics titled “Analysis of Death Services. It was released in April of 2015. Now, the Veterans Affairs Inspector General’s report has given a better estimate: 307,000 may have died waiting for health care (via CNN):

Hundreds of thousands of veterans listed in the Department of Veterans Affairs enrollment system died before their applications for care were processed, according to a report issued Wednesday.

The VA's inspector general found that out of about 800,000 records stalled in the agency's system for managing health care enrollment, there were more than 307,000 records that belonged to veterans who had died months or years in the past.

In a response to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs' request to investigate a whistleblower's allegations of mismanagement at the VA's Health Eligibility Center, the inspector general also found VA staffers incorrectly marked unprocessed applications and may have deleted 10,000 or more records in the last five years.

In one case, a veteran who applied for VA care in 1998 was placed in "pending" status for 14 years. Another veteran who passed away in 1988 was found to have an unprocessed record lingering in 2014, the investigation found.

VA Deputy Inspector General Linda Halliday noted that whistleblowers have provided essential information “to pursue accountability and corrective actions in VA programs.” In all, nearly 900,000 veterans still have their claims pending review. Additionally, the report found that the Health Eligibility Center (HEC) deleted 10,000 records from the Workload Reporting and Productivity (WRAP) tool since co-workers improperly marked applications as complete. Yet, a full review is not possible due to improper cataloging and storage of data:

While the HEC often deleted transactions for legitimate purposes, such as the removal of duplicate transactions, information security deficiencies within WRAP limited our ability to review some issues fully and rule out manipulation of data.

WRAP was vulnerable because the HEC did not ensure that adequate business processes and security controls were in place, did not manage WRAP user permissions, and did not maintain audit trails to identify reviews and approvals of deleted transactions. In addition, the Office of Information and Technology (OI&T) did not provide proper oversight for the development, security, and data backup retention for WRAP. OI&T also did not collect and retain WRAP audit logs, evidence of administrative and user interactions within the database, in accordance with VA policy. In the absence of the audit logs, OI&T cannot analyze system activity for unauthorized or inadvertent undesired activity.

Overall, the Veterans Affairs scandal is a fiasco, and a national disgrace regarding the inadequate care and attention that's been given to those who have served our country. Waiting periods and “secret waiting lists” for sick veterans were unearthed in this tedious, frustrating, and wholly deplorable saga that still isn’t over. So far, only three Veterans Affairs personnel have been fired since the scandal broke in April of 2014.

Updates are sure to follow.