Department of Veterans Affairs officials created a new online system for veterans to apply for VA health benefits in August 2010. Unlike healthcare.gov in October 2013, the VA website seemed to work fine. It was the people on the back end who weren't working properly. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this week, after the website was up, VA told veterans it was the easiest and fastest way to file claims.
Many veterans did so, believing their cases would be handled promptly and honestly. Instead, because they lacked some piece of information needed to determine eligibility, nearly 900,000 applications languished for months or years without action. In 2012, an internal VA investigation found that as many as 47,786 veterans in the backlog had died while waiting on pending applications.
|VA must be fixed for real, not through manipulation of numbers by the same malicious or incompetent bureaucrats who caused the problem.|
Atlanta-based VA employee Kimberly Hughes, who had discovered the problem, urged superiors to start contacting veterans whose applications were in limbo and give them enrollment decisions. Hughes' superiors ignored her concerns and retaliated against her.
One VA official hinted in an email that it might create a scandal if applicants who had tried to enroll years earlier were suddenly reminded of it by a ridiculously belated request for documentation. Even worse, what if families got requests pertaining to veterans who had since died?
To avoid this embarrassment, VA started reaching out in 2013 but only to the 100,000 most recent pending applicants, leaving older cases to rot. Some top bureaucrats in the VA's Health Eligibility Center reportedly wanted to reject 600,000 of the pending applications outright, to give themselves a fresh start. Before leaving the agency last year, Hughes said she also found that dates on multiple applications were being falsified, seemingly to give the appearance of efficiency.
So when bureaucrats started telling veterans four years ago that the online application process was the fastest way to get enrolled for VA health care, they knew otherwise. The Journal-Constitution unearthed an email from VA Assistant Deputy Under Secretary Philip Matkovsky saying that “of all the modalities for processing applications in our facilities, it is the online 1010EZ process that is slowest.”
The Washington Examiner starting in 2013 and other news outlets more recently have written volumes on the VA disaster. The existence of yet another major problem may be unsurprising, but it should remind Americans they owe it to their veterans to fix this.
And VA must be fixed for real, not through manipulation of numbers by the same bureaucrats who caused the problem. For example, the Examiner's Mark Flatten reported Monday that shortly after the original Phoenix VA scandal broke, a VA office in Georgia canceled 1,500 veterans' medical appointments en masse simply to meet its goal of reducing its backlog. This is why it's not enough to revise existing processes and systems. Robert McDonald, the new VA secretary, should make it his first priority to identify and wherever possible publicly remove every VA bureaucrat who contributed to or helped cover up these debacles.