Veteran’s disability benefits claims have been incorrectly cataloged in the St. Petersburg VA regional office. Steep backlog and inefficient data processing are responsible for the discrepancy, according to a report made public by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. An anonymous tip triggered the investigation.
In the report, the Office of Inspector General verified that there was a significant backlog of unprocessed hard copy veteran materials. This was the result of inefficient preparation and handling of documentation on behalf of the facility responsible for scanning veterans’ information into the computer system.
More than 41,900 mail packages of veterans' claims materials were part of this backlog, and more than 1,600 boxes awaited processing at the scanning facility. The OIG also found a number of hard copy veterans' materials that were improperly stored and comingled with contractor documentation. Overall, the OIG determined that the information and documentation was disorganized and not ready for scanning.
An increase in the number of outstanding claims at the end of 2014 also led to a significant backlog of unprocessed claims. The OIG concluded that the VA Regional Office was ill-prepared to deal with processing hard copy veteran material at the scanning facility, and that they also did not provide adequate oversight of the independent contractors charged with scanning the information.
As a veterans’ disability attorney, one of the most common complaints I hear is how the VA takes too long to process claims; that they are “just waiting for us to give up and die.”
While it is true the VA has significant problems, it would probably be somewhat unrealistic to suggest they are purposely trying to delay processing claims in hopes that veterans die first.
This recent report clearly highlights some of the internal problems the VA has in handling files in a timely manner, and is what ultimately slows down their ability to process the veterans’ claims.
Allowing 41,000 pieces of mail to sit unattended and more than 1,600 boxes of documents to languish means that the careful and proper handling of your appeal will not take place in a timely fashion.
There is a limit to what an attorney can do to cause a claim to move faster when the VA lacks the infrastructure and supervisory oversight necessary to ensure that documentation is properly filed, scanned, and organized.
As a veterans' disability lawyer, I endorse the OIG’s recommendation that the St. Petersburg Regional Office consistently organize and mail hard copies of veterans' material to the scanning contractor, and that they then follow-up to ensure its proper processing. We also wholly endorse holding the Regional Office Director accountable for compliance in these matters. In addition, the OIG also recommended that the Undersecretary for Benefits initiate on-site reviews of the scanning contractor’s facilities to ensure that a timely processing of the material is taking place.
We completely endorse these measures, and we would also add that the VA should consider hiring more staff for purposes of making sure mail is properly organized and sent for scanning in a timely manner.
As a veterans' disability attorney who represents veterans on appeals throughout the Regional Offices of the United States, we too are frustrated with the length of time it takes for these claims to resolve.
We applaud the OIG for launching this investigation. We hope the situation improves quickly so that veterans appealing their denial of VA benefits in St. Petersburg can see their claims resolved in a more timely manner.