The Veterans Affairs regional office in Columbia has done a poor job of reviewing disability claims accurately and in the required time, according to a report issued Thursday by the VA Office of Inspector General.
An inspection this year found that 36 of 89 disability claims reviewed had processing errors. The report noted the claims sampled were in areas considered at high risk for errors.
The report found many of the delays cost VA, rather than veterans. Many of the errors uncovered in the inspection dealt with waiting too long to evaluate whether claims should be reduced because of physical improvements.
In one case, the office staff received a reminder in October 2010 to request a veteran with prostate cancer be re-examined. He wasn’t re-examined until January 2014, and improvements noted in that exam should have cut his benefits. But the staff still had not completed the change in disability claims when the inspectors visited in March.
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The delays resulted in the veteran being overpaid $68,935 over 35 months, according to the report.
That case was at the extreme end of the scale. Many of the errors were over shorter terms and involved much smaller over-payments or, in a few cases, underpayments.
Several underpayment cases involved special monthly compensation for severe disabilities. One veteran, for instance, was underpaid $88,875 over nearly four years when he wasn’t granted the full compensation for the loss of use of both legs and control of bowel and bladder.
The Inspector General’s office recommended the Columbia VA office put more resources into clearing the March backlog of 658 evaluations of temporary complete disability cases. It also recommended more training for claims processors, especially in the special compensation category.
The Columbia office said the timeliness problems were related to workload. It agreed with the recommendations and pledged to provide more training and streamline the process to wipe out the backlog by the end of the year.