VA Overpaid Disabled Vets

January 25, 2013

Inspectors say the most stubborn, chronic mistake made by Veterans Affairs (VA) claims examiners while trying to dig their way out of a growing backlog of cases is overcompensating some veterans, says USA Today.

  • The Department of Veterans Affairs overpaid 12,800 veterans $943 million from 1993 to 2009, according to projections by the VA's Office of Inspector General.
  • And if the error isn't corrected, inspector general auditors say another $1.1 billion could be wasted by 2016.

The VA says the projections are significantly overstated, but is fixing the problem. The House Veterans Affairs Committee plans to hold a hearing on the issue in February.

The mistakes occur in a narrow batch of cases where veterans temporarily receive a 100 percent disability rating while undergoing surgery or debilitating treatments and convalescing.

  • Claims examiners have repeatedly failed -- often in two out of three sampled cases -- to seek a follow-up medical exam to determine if the veteran's condition has improved and the temporary 100 percent disability rating should be reduced accordingly, say inspectors.
  • The result is veterans who improve or recover, but receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation over years for a level of disability they no longer have.
  • The 100 percent rating legally bars the VA from recouping overpayments that inspectors say have occurred.

A common error involves cancer treatment where the disease stabilizes or goes into remission. In one case, a veteran who improved after being treated for non-Hodgkin lymphoma was overpaid $237,000 over seven-and-a-half years until the mistake at a Cleveland VA office was caught by inspectors, according to a September report.

  • A January 2011 inspector general audit first projected more than $1 billion would be lost over five years if the temporary disability problem was not fixed, and all 42 regional office inspections since then still show errors.
  • VA claims examiners handled 1.1 million compensation requests last year and took an average of 260 days to complete cases.
  • The VA pays out about $40 billion a year in compensation to veterans for service-connected disabilities.

Source: Gregg Zoroya, "Auditors: Veterans Affairs Overpaid Disabled Vets," USA Today, January 23, 2013.

 

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