Is the VA at it again?
The Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group blog has been covering the seemingly neverending news about scandals at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It started with reports of forged paperwork regarding the length of time those receiving VA medical benefits waited for care. Then came allegations of both over-payments of claims and a huge backlog of unprocessed disability claims. The latest? Allegations that the VA intentionally and deceptively changed the dates on VA disability applications.
The Obama administration has made efforts and set goals to reduce the backlog and wait times for VA disability benefits, hoping to eliminate it entirely by 2015. The VA has been claiming they are making progress on these goals and have significantly reduced the wait time for disability claim determinations, and that the backlog has been cut by 55% since last year. VA leadership also cites the improved accuracy of claims determinations as evidence of its progress.
There has already been critical analysis in the news over the accuracy of the numbers the VA has released and house members met the claims with a similar cynicism during a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on July 14th. The contentious hearing lasted until 1 a.m.
Allegations of Date Changing
Even more reason to doubt the numbers appeared this week when a whistleblower, Kristen Ruell, a VA employee in Pennsylvania, came forward with some disturbing allegations. She has alleged that the mandate to reduce backlogged claims led her office to develop a policy of changing dates on claims rather than a policy to reduce claims.
Ruell alleges that date changes were intentional, as employees were instructed to change the numbers if they were older than a certain date. She claims that she can state with certainty that this impacted “thousands” at her VA regional office alone. She attributes the falsification to corrupt leaders seeking to get bonuses. Ruell also stated that mail at her office routinely sat untouched for “years” and she had some concern that it was being shredded.
The accuracy of her statements has not been seriously questioned, as she testified under oath during the house committee hearing and a VA Inspector General Report found similar occurrences in both Ruell’s office and the Baltimore VA office. The report affirmed both the backdating and the “bins” full of unopened mail and claims.
During the hearing, Chairman of the committee, Jeff Miller, characterized his feelings about the latest scandal by saying, “Am I surprised? No, I’m shocked.” Miller also had some choice words for the VA, stating that it was evident that there “is not a corner that VA leadership will not cut, nor a statistic that they will not manipulate.” He went on to issue a warning for the VA, noting that the agency “may ignore everybody, but I stress you will not ignore this committee anymore.” Hopefully this strong language will be followed with strong action.
Contact a Disability Attorney for Help with Your Claim
If you have or will be filing a disability claim with the VA, contact contact the Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group today. Now more than ever, it is important to have an advocate for your claims.