Over 200,000 veterans have died awaiting benefit approval

On Wednesday the Department of Veteran Affairs Inspector General said that 867,000 applications are awaiting approval. They also acknowledged that the enrollment process has “serious” problems that make it nearly impossible to determine how many of those numbers are veterans actually seeking care.

Another troubling statistic is that the VA reports about one-third of those veterans have died while awaiting approval. The applications go back nearly two decades, but the “data limitations” of the agency make them unable to figure out how many veterans were actively seeking health care benefits.

VA investigators also report that more than half the applications did not have dates. This also makes it hard for the to determine how many of the applicants were still held by active benefits seekers.

Linda Halliday is the acting VA Inspector General and has reported her initial findings.

“We also substantiated that employees incorrectly marked unprocessed applications as completed and possibly deleted 10,000 or more transactions over the past five years. Information security deficiencies, such as the lack of audit trails and system backups, limited our ability to review some issues fully and rule out data manipulation,” Halliday wrote.

Halliday’s report also made it clear that there was really no way to figure out for sure what caused the deaths of the awaiting applicants, whether or not they were under other medical care, or when they may have died.

The VA system also does not allow investigators or application processors to purge the deceased applications.

Publicly the VA has acknowledged that the enrollment process is confusing, and that the entire system is in need of an overhaul. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee agrees, and would like to the VA respond to these mismanagement issues quickly and ensure this does not happen again.

“As we continue our work to contact veterans, our focus remains on improving the enrollment system to better serve veterans,” VA spokeswoman Walinda West said.

Starting on June 30 the VA began contacting veterans by mail, sending out 302,045 requests for further documents. As of now they have received 36,479 responses.

Additionally, they removed a “purge-and-delete” function from the system while they work to provide six months of data to show an improvement in record tracking. Any changed or deleted records will now undergo an approval process that includes management review.