Audit Finds Hundreds of Unprocessed Claims at VA Office in Oakland
The Department of Veterans Affairs office that reviews claims for Northern California has failed to process hundreds of informal compensation and disability claims, causing veterans and their family members to lose out on necessary benefits, according to an audit by the VA Office of Inspector General, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
The audit was requested by Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) after whistleblowers revealed hidden claims within the regional office.
According to the audit, the VA office in Oakland stored thousands of informal claims -- some of which dated back to the mid-1990s -- in a filing cabinet without processing them.
Specifically, the audit said that 13,184 claims were uncovered in 2012, of which 2,155 still required "review or action." A special team was assigned to review and process the files, but employees last spring found a cart of 537 claims that still had not been processed after they were reviewed.
During a two-week probe of the Oakland office in July 2014, VA OIG found that a spreadsheet for the 537 unprocessed claims had been made, but there was no paper trail for the larger group of claims. Therefore, VA OIG could not verify that all claims had been processed because of "management's poor record-keeping practices," according to the audit (Ho, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/18).
The audit recommended that the Oakland VA office:
- Develop a plan for oversight of workers who process informal claims;
- Implement more training on claims processing and evaluate the effectiveness of such training; and
- Process the 537 claims (VA OIG audit, 2/18).
Oakland VA Office's Response
Julianna Boor, regional director of the Oakland office, said she concurred with the audit's recommendations, noting that staff had been trained on the correct procedure for processing claims in June 2014 and October 2014.
She added that all mail now is scanned and converted into electronic files to more accurately track veteran claims.
LaMalfa said he was disappointed with the audit's recommendations. While he applauded the decision to review the 537 claims, he said he remained concerned about other unprocessed informal claims and whether veterans had received their benefits.
LaMalfa said, "The accountability for why these things happen doesn't have any clear conclusion."
Meanwhile, Lauren Price, founder of Veteran Warriors, said she was skeptical that only 2,155 of the 13,184 informal claims found in 2012 needed further action or review. She said, "According to the law, every single one of them needed to be verified and every veteran needed to be contacted" (San Francisco Chronicle, 2/18).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.