The Department of Veterans Affairs handled disability claims pending for two years or more in a way that made the backlog appear smaller than it really was, the department’s inspector general said in a report on Monday that was requested by U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from Winston-Salem, and several other senators.
The Office of the Inspector General said VA regional offices were required to issue provisional ratings for certain types of older cases that needed more evidence. Provisional cases were removed from the backlog, even though the veterans hadn’t received a final decision. In addition, the investigation found that many claims in the sample that was reviewed were processed inaccurately.
“This latest IG report confirms that VA’s ‘fix’ to its backlog process was just smoke and mirrors and another example of VA manipulating the data to make it appear as if veterans are being well served,” Burr said in a statement. “It is absolutely shameful that a department charged with the care of our nation’s veterans would choose to resort to practices that negatively affect them and inaccurately portray the VA’s workload.”
Burr is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.
The investigators reviewed a representative sample of claims from eight locations, none of them in North Carolina. They estimated that 7,823 veterans with provisionally rated claims were removed from the number of claims waiting for a final decision. These represented less than 2 percent of the backlog.
The investigation found that the Veterans Benefits Administration did not place a priority on finishing claims that were given provisional decisions, but instead focused on claims that were still counted in the backlog. It estimated that VA staff inaccurately processed 17,600 of 56,500 claims, resulting in $40.4 million in improper payments.
The VA Inspector General report is available here.