The Department of Veterans Affairs has confirmed allegations made by a whistleblower that more than 250,000 veterans with pending applications for VA health care are likely deceased.
Linda Halliday, the VA’s acting inspector general issued a report Wednesday confirming that a massive number of vets indeed died while waiting for care, though there was no way to tell for sure why or when those individuals died. Halliday said that nearly 900,000 military veterans have officially pending applications for health care with the department, but “serious” problems with enrollment data make it impossible to determine how many vets are actively seeking VA health care.
According to the report, about one-third of the 867,000 enrollees are likely deceased. The report also said that data limitations are keeping investigators from determining how many of those deceased vets applied for health care benefits or when. Some of the vets may have died years ago, as some of the applications date back two decades. More than half of the applications listed as pending lack application dates, as well.
It was revealed in the document that thousands of unprocessed health care applications were incorrectly marked as completed. The problem is further compounded by the fact that VA employees also apparently deleted upwards of 10,000 electronic “transactions” over the past five years.
Halliday said the agency’s Health Eligibility Center “has not effectively managed its business processes to ensure the consistent creation and maintenance of essential data” and proposed a multi-year plan aimed at improving the accuracy and usefulness of agency records. The inspector general blamed a lack of audit trails and system backups for limiting investigators’ ability to fully review certain issues and rule out data manipulation.
Since the VA lacks a method for purging the list of dead applicants, many of those listed in the report may have used another type of insurance before they died.
The VA has reached out to 302,045 veterans via e-mail since June 30, asking them to submit required documents to establish eligibility. So far, 36,749 vets have responded and the VA has enrolled 34,517 of those individuals.
Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., chairman and senior Democrat of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, issued a joint statement saying that Halliday’s report demonstrated “both a significant failure” by the leaders at the Health Eligibility Center and “deficient oversight by the VA central office” in Washington. The senators urged called on the VA to “ensure that this level of blatant mismanagement does not happen again” by implementing the report’s recommendations quickly to improve record keeping at the department.