A new report from the VA’s top watchdog reveals that a supervisor at the VA Honolulu administration office regularly manipulated records to make it appear as though benefits applications were being processed faster than they actually were.
As a slight difference from most of the scandals which were brought to public attention last year, this example concerns manipulated benefits claims, rather than manipulated wait lists for medical appointments. Additionally, the manager has since resigned, which marks a break from past cases where VA employees and officials would simply be transferred or reassigned — sometimes even still given bonuses.
What happened exactly is that the supervisor carefully removed controls between April and August of 2014 which were designed to track benefits claims. Inspectors examined 139 files and determined that the supervisor had manipulated 100 of them, representing a 73 percent tamper rate.
Another 48 cases at random were selected for review. Of that total, 43, marking 90 percent, were manipulated.
Around 143 veterans were determined to be directly affected by the manager’s meddling, but because the rate of manipulation was so high, many more veterans may have been hit by unnecessary delays. According to the VA inspector general, the supervisor “misrepresented the [regional office’s] claims inventory and timeliness measures, and impaired its ability to measure and manage its workloads.”
Brent Aronte, director of the San Diego Benefits Inspection Division for the VA inspector general, told AP that out of 57 regional offices, five, including Honolulu, have been caught manipulating data.
Back in October 2014, the director of the Honolulu VA regional office contacted the inspector general and asked for an investigation into allegations that something strange was happening to the records.
Numbers current as of March 28 place the total amount of backlogged VA benefits claims at 193,662. This represents a 68 percent decrease from 611,073 claims in March 2013. A claim falls under the backlog category if it’s been pending for over 125 days. The VA has had to scramble to accommodate the dramatic increase of claims, as more veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Patrick Zondervan, director of the Honolulu VA regional office, told AP in an email that from January 2013 to this week, the number of disability and pension claims have been reduced from 6,059 to 2,692.