The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Inspector General on Wednesday confirmed that more than one-third of the people thought to be seeking eligibility for VA benefits are deceased, and said many of them have been dead for more than four years.
The OIG report confirms the worst fears of members of Congress, who said in July that they would investigate unsubstantiated claims that thousands of veterans died before they ever became eligible for VA benefits.
In July, reports surfaced that an estimated 239,000 veterans died before they became eligible for benefits, or 28 percent of the nearly 850,000 veterans thought to be seeking these benefits.
The OIG’s report said the situation is even worse — it said 307,000 names on the VA’s list of pending enrollees were deceased. That’s 35 percent of the 867,000 people on the list as of last year.
“As of September 2014, more than 307,000 pending [enrollment system] records, or about 35 percent of all pending records, were for individuals reported as deceased by the Social Security Administration,” the report said.
While the OIG was trying to determine how many veterans may have died waiting for a determination that they were eligible for care, the OIG said it could not find a precise number, mostly because the VA’s data was so poor.
“[D]ue to data limitations, we could not determine specifically how many pending [enrollment system] records represent veterans who applied for health care benefits,” it said. “These conditions occurred because the enrollment program did not effectively define, collect, and manage enrollment data.”
But that finding was dismissed by Scott Davis, a VA employee and whistleblower who has pushed Congress to fix the myriad of problems at the VA. Davis told the Washington Examiner that while the OIG gave some examples of how names might have mistakenly ended up on the VA’s list of potential enrollees, it has to be assumed that most of the 307,000 deceased veterans were seeking care at some point.
“Even if you buy the Health Eligibility Center’s position that all these people didn’t apply, then why were they on the list?” he said. He also said the VA is at fault for running such a broken enrollment system that an independent investigator can’t determine how many veterans died seeking care.
“We can’t say what’s what because of flaws in the enrollment system, and the flaws exist basically because the people responsible for fixing it haven’t,” he said.
Davis said the main official responsible for the VA’s Health Eligibility Center, Stephanie Mardon, should be fired for keeping such poor records, which even the OIG said is hurting efforts to get care to veterans. “Overstated pending enrollment records create unnecessary difficulty and confusion in identifying and assisting veterans with the most urgent need for health care enrollment,” it said.
But Davis also said the OIG report gives the VA, and the Obama administration, the tools it needs to start fixing the problem.
“The president and the [VA] secretary owe these veterans and their families an apology, because this issue could have been addressed a long time ago,” Davis said. “But I’m happy to see the VA is starting to make progress on this.”