A new report blames inadequate training and other problems for at least $267,000 that was improperly paid out to disabled veterans at a Columbia Veterans Administration office within the past four years.
The VA Inspector General report released on Thursday identifies a high rate of errors in the way the Columbia VA Regional Office (VARO) processes benefits and claims for veterans in the South Carolina.
The Columbia VARO office is located on the same campus as the Dorn VA Medical Center. But it is considered a separate branch from the hospital that has had its own troubles with long wait times for appointments and colorectal cancer screenings.
The report looked at 89 disability claims handled by the office and found 40 percent of those claims were handled improperly, including all but seven claims for “temporary 100 percent disability.” However, the Inspector General cautioned it had only examined claims that were considered to have a higher risk for mistakes, meaning the actual error rate is likely not so high. But the report did note a lack of timely follow-through by VA employees which may be causing overpayments to some veterans and underpayments to others.
The State newspaper first reported on the audit Thursday.
In one case, a veteran was overpaid nearly $69,000 over three years. Another was underpaid nearly $89,000 over four years when he wasn’t granted full compensation for the loss of his legs and bowel problems. In one case, a veteran had filed a request to reexamine his prostate cancer in October 2010, but staff did not schedule a reevaluation until this past January.
The report said the backlog grew as employees were told to focus on other priorities. “Generally, processing inaccuracies occurred because (VA Regional Office) management did not have the resources to cover all priorities to ensure timely action on these cases,” the auditors noted.
The report also said that Columbia staff incorrectly processed 10 of 30 traumatic brain injury (TBI) claims, primarily by using insufficient medical examination reports.
Among its recommendations, the Inspector General said Columbia office leaders needed to develop a plan for more timely processing of disability claims, better review more than 650 pending “temporary 100 percent disability” evaluations, and better train staff to process traumatic brain injury cases.
The Columbia office said it agreed with the recommendations and is working to implement them.