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VA improperly tracks and pays disability payments

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The Veterans Affairs Department has not fixed problems with scheduling follow-up medical exams for temporarily disabled veterans, costing the department millions of dollars each year, witnesses told the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

In a Feb. 5 hearing, Linda Halliday, an assistant inspector general for VA, says that many veterans who receive a 100 percent temporary disability rating--for a major surgery or treatment and a recuperation period--are paid at this rate despite becoming healthy enough to resume work because examiners repeatedly fail to schedule follow-up exams.

She said that in a Jan. 24, 2011 report (.pdf), the department's IG found VA overpaid veterans by a total of $943 million from 1993 through 2009 and risks overpaying by $1.1 billion for the period of 2011 to 2016.

Brent Arronte, director of the VA's San Diego Benefits Inspection Division of the OIG, said that the Veterans Benefits Administration told auditors at the time that a computer glitch caused 46 percent of errors for patients that failed to get these follow-up exam dates.

"We never found a systems glitch. To us a glitch means the system was not working as intended," he said. Arronte said some system developers told auditors that the system was never developed to automatically populate check-up dates.

Arronte said that 25 percent of the total errors could be attributed solely to human error, by failing to schedule or accidently cancelling follow-up appointments.

Rick Weidman of the Vietnam Veterans of America said there is no reason the VA eBenefits system does not automatically request a follow-up for these veterans. "Don't depend on an individual to do everything right every single time" when processes can be automated, he said.

The VA says it has implemented fixes to make sure follow-up exams are scheduled. Halliday said that auditors have not yet checked these but reports this summer will look into the fixes.

For more:
- visit the hearing page for archived video and written testimony
- download the OIG report from 2011 (.pdf)

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