Wednesday, December 17, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

VA cites progress on backlog; Congress disagrees

By
From page A12 | July 16, 2014 |

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs says it has made “tremendous progress” in reducing a disability claims backlog that reached above 600,000 early last year. Members of Congress and the department’s assistant inspector general don’t believe it.

Allison Hickey, the VA’s undersecretary for benefits, told Congress that at the insistence of officials from President Barack Obama on down, the benefits backlog has been whittled down to about 275,000 — a 55 percent decrease from the peak.

Hickey’s claims were met with disbelief by some. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, told her flatly that he thinks the VA’s numbers are inaccurate.

“I don’t believe anybody at the table is telling the truth from the VA,” Miller said at a contentious hearing that lasted more than five hours Monday night. “I believe you are hiding numbers.”

Asked if she trusted numbers produced by VA, the agency’s assistant inspector general, Linda Halliday, said no.

“I don’t want to say I trust them,” Halliday said.

In a report issued earlier Monday, Halliday said that in its rush to reduce the backlog of disability claims, the VA has made benefits payments of more than $85 million to veterans who lacked adequate medical evidence that they deserve them. Without improvements, the VA could make unsupported payments to veterans totaling about $371 million over the next five years for claims of 100 percent disability alone, Halliday said.

The IG’s office also found widespread problems at VA regional offices in Philadelphia and Baltimore, including mail bins full of disability claims and associated evidence that had not been electronically scanned for three years.

“Improved financial stewardship at the agency is needed,” Halliday told the House veterans panel. “More attention is critical to minimize the financial risk of making inaccurate benefit payments.”

Special initiatives designed to remove older claims and speed processing of new claims are worthwhile, Halliday said, but in some cases they “have had an adverse impact on other workload areas” such as managing appeals filed by veterans and reducing overpayments to veterans.

Hickey defended her agency, saying the department has spent the past four years redesigning and streamlining the way it delivers benefits and services to veterans.

Last year, the Veterans Benefits Administration, which she oversees, completed a record 1.2 million disability rating claims, Hickey said. The agency is on track to complete more than 1.3 million rating claims this year and pay a total of $67 billion in benefits — about half the VA’s budget, Hickey said. More than 90 percent of the claims are being processed electronically, she said.

The VA has long struggled to cope with disability claims. The backlog intensified in recent years as more solders returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, and as the VA made it easier for Vietnam-era veterans to get disability compensation stemming from exposure to Agent Orange.

The VA has set a goal to process all claims within 125 days at 98 percent accuracy in 2015, but so far has fallen far short. The agency now processes most claims within 154 days — or more than five months — at a 90 percent accuracy rate, compared with an accuracy rate of 86 percent three years ago, Hickey said. At one point, veterans were forced to wait an average nine to 10 months for their disability claims to be processed.

“It has never been acceptable to VA … that our veterans are experiencing long delays in receiving the benefits they have earned and deserve,” Hickey said, adding that she was “saddened and offended” by related problems that have plagued VA health centers in recent months. Investigators have found long waits for appointments at VA hospitals and clinics, and falsified records to cover up the delays.

Halliday, in her report, said she found similar problems with the benefits agency, including faulty claims processing that “increases the risk of improper payments to veterans and their families.”

Inspectors surveying Philadelphia’s VA benefits center in June found mail bins brimming with claims and associated evidence dating to 2011 that had not been electronically scanned, she said.

Inspectors also found evidence that staffers at the Philadelphia regional office were manipulating dates to make old claims appear newer. The findings are similar to problems in which investigators have found long waits for appointments at VA hospitals and clinics, and falsified records to cover up the delays.

In Baltimore, investigators discovered that an employee had inappropriately stored in his office thousands of documents, including some that contained Social Security data, “for an extensive period of time.” About 8,000 documents, including 80 claims folders, unprocessed mail and Social Security information of dead or incarcerated veterans, were stored in the employee’s office, Halliday said.

Kristen Ruell, an employee at the VA’s Pension Management Center in Philadelphia, told the committee that mail routinely “sat in boxes untouched for years” at the pension office. Once, after becoming concerned that unopened mail was being shredded, Ruell opened the boxes and took photos. Instead of addressing the problem, she said, VA supervisors enacted a policy prohibiting taking photos.

After VA officials in Washington issued a directive last year ordering that a backlog of claims older than 125 days be reduced, the Philadelphia office “took this to mean that they could change the dates of every claim older than six weeks,” Ruell said. While pension center managers later told the IG’s office that the mislabeling was based on a misunderstanding of the directive, Ruell said, “these behaviors are intentional.”

“The VA’s problems are a result of morally bankrupt managers that through time and (government service) grade have moved up into powerful positions where they have the power to and continue to ruin people’s lives,” Ruell said.

 

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

 
Menorah on Main begins celebration of Hanukkah

By Glen Faison | From Page: A1, 2 Comments | Gallery

Haynes, Travis district part company

By Glen Faison | From Page: A1, 13 Comments

 
Optimist Club welcomes student essays

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

 
Police arrest 5 on DUI allegations

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3, 4 Comments

Free new home heater warms Solano family

By Glen Faison | From Page: A3, 3 Comments | Gallery

 
 
Crash blocks part of Air Base Parkway

By Glen Faison | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Police arrest 4 for suspected marijuana sales

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A5, 4 Comments

 
 
‘Hobbit’ story ends on big screen

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A7

 
Council delays decision on anti-smoking ordinance

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A8

Police arrest man caught driving stolen car

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A8

 
 
Suisun City police log: Dec. 12, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A12, 1 Comment

 
Fairfield police log: Dec. 14, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A12

 
Faifield police log: Dec. 12, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: Dec. 14, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

Quotes from around the world on Pakistan attack

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
A look at the Pakistani Taliban militant group

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Taliban assault on Pakistan school leaves 141 dead

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1, 2 Comments

 
State retiree health care gap reaches $72 billion

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9, 4 Comments

Robin Williams tops 2014 list of Google searches

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Ex-Marine wanted in 6 killings commits suicide

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13, 2 Comments

 
Gay vets can march in Boston St. Patrick’s parade

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13, 1 Comment

Cosby won’t be charged over molestation claim

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
End game: No immigration deal, just divisions

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

Jeb Bush to ‘actively explore’ run for president

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13, 3 Comments

 
Employees arrested for baby theft in Guatemala

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

Israel arrests members of Jewish extremist group

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
Ireland plans May vote on legalizing gay marriage

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

Sydney siege victims lauded for courage, kindness

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
Horror over deadly Sydney siege turns to anger

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

Aussie leader: System failed to track siege gunman

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
Islamic State recruits broadly, not just fighters

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

Eight-day Jewish festival of Hanukkah begins

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
Filipino mayor expresses support for Guam statue

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

.

Opinion

 
LA looks to election shift to boost turnout

By Dan Walters | From Page: A11

 
What is Hanukkah’s significance?

By The Rev. Dan Molyneux | From Page: A11, 10 Comments

.

Living

Today in History: Dec. 17, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: Dec. 17, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A2

Horoscopes: Dec. 17, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B6

 
My teenage daughter seems to be cutting me out of her life

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B6

A chocolatey rich coconut cream pie for Christmas

By Elizabeth Karmel | From Page: B7

 
Go Italian this Christmas with lobster manicotti

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

Dressing up a simple hash for Christmas brunch

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
.

Entertainment

Letterman pulls curtain on holiday tradition

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A5

Green Day, Reed, Starr into rock hall

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Fixes planned for clinic that treated Joan Rivers

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

.

Sports

Some Raiders players want Sparano in 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Fairfield grad Bishop signs with 49ers

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B1, 1 Comment | Gallery

Memphis stops Golden State’s 16-game win streak

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Chris Borland’s rookie 49ers season likely over

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Bills deliver Lions pizza, wings for hospitality

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
1998 World Cup winner Thierry Henry retires

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

USOC decides to bid for 2024; city still undecided

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
College football playoff participants stack AP All-America team

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Yankees GM Cashman: A-Rod now a full-time DH

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Sprint to end NASCAR sponsorship after 2016 season

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Raiders place LB Sio Moore on IR

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Patriots regain top spot in AP Pro32 rankings

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Rodriguez girls finally get win over Monte Vista

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B2

Panthers outlast Capitals in longest NHL shootout, 20 rounds

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
AP sources: NFL employees turn over phone, email records

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

.

Business

California home prices cool in November on sluggish sales

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
T-Mobile to let customers carry over unused data

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Apple wins class-action lawsuit over iPod prices

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Obama backs bill imposing new sanctions on Russia

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9, 5 Comments

Sony hackers reference 9/11 in new threats against theaters

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
Russian ruble sinks sharply despite bank rate hike

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

Apple stops sales in Russia, citing unstable ruble

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
.

Obituaries

James Nelson

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
Collie Joseph Blossom

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 2 Comments

Calvin B. Shin

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 3 Comments

 
.

Comics

Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6