The Corner

VA Report: 307,000 Veterans Died Waiting for Applications to Be Processed

The Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General issued another utterly appalling report, painting a picture of incompetence and callousness: 

We substantiated the first allegation that [the enrollment system] had about 867,000 pending records as of September 30, 2014. These ES records were coded as pending because they had not reached a final determination status. However, due to the data limitations, we could not reliably determine how many records were associated with actual applications for enrollment. The number of pending records in ES was overstated and did not necessarily represent veterans actively seeking enrollment in VA health care. We projected that at least 477,000 of the pending records did not have application dates. Although missing dates may occur for multiple reasons, the frequent lack of application dates makes ES unreliable for monitoring timeliness or determining if a record represents a veteran’s intent to apply for VA health care. In addition, most of the pending records have been inactive for years because the CBO did not establish limits on how long ES records could remain in a pending status before reaching a final determination. 

We substantiated the second allegation that pending ES records included entries for individuals reported to be deceased. As of September 2014, more than 307,000 pending ES records, or about 35 percent of all pending records, were for individuals reported as deceased by the Social Security Administration.

This is the key figure, indicating that those 307,000 deceased veterans may have died while waiting to get into the VA system. As CNN’s Drew Griffin puts it, “These are not veterans waiting for care; these are veterans who were applying for the privilege of waiting for care.” One veteran’s unprocessed application was fourteen years old. 

We substantiated the third allegation that employees incorrectly marked unprocessed applications as completed and possibly deleted 10,000 or more transactions from the Workload Reporting and Productivity (WRAP) tool over the past 5 years.

The Inspector General recommend the Department heads “determine if administrative action should be taken against any Veterans Health Administration or Office of Information and Technology senior officials involved, and ensure that appropriate action is taken.” 

Of course, we shouldn’t hold our breath. As Rep. Jeff Miller pointed out when introducing legislation earlier this year, ”The VA has not fired any employees at all for wait time manipulation. In fact, VA has only attempted to discipline eight people for wait time manipulation.” Eighteen VA employees were fired, although those were for other reasons beyond manipulating records, including patient deaths.

CNN’s Griffin summarized, “It does not seem to be getting any better.”

President Obama, speaking at the VFW National Convention in Pittsburgh, July 21, made it sound like the VA had largely solved its problems.

“Real strength is measured by how we take care of our veterans when you come home. VFW, working together, we’ve made real progress,” Obama said. “I brought in [new Secretary of Veterans Affairs] Bob McDonald, and I went down to the Phoenix VA to see and hear for myself. The VA reached out to vets across the country to get them off those wait lists and in for care. Bob is bringing energetic new leadership. He is working to hold people accountable and make sure the whistle-blowers are protected instead of punished.”

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