The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General says the VA is improperly shredding documents related to veterans benefits claims, and says the problem is "systemic" throughout the VA.
The OIG released a report Thursday that said the controls put in place by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) are "not effective," and aren't stopping VA regional offices, or VAROs, from "potentially destroying claims-related documents."
The report was done after complaints that VA officials in Los Angeles were shredding mail related to claims. After making recommendations to the Los Angeles office, the OIG examined 10 VA offices around the country to see if there were similar problems.
"VBA's controls were not fully effective in preventing VARO staff from destroying claims-related documents at six of the 10 VAROs, where we performed unannounced inspections," it said. "We found that 69 of 155 claims-related documents (45 percent) — which VARO staff had not matched to veterans' claims folders — were improperly scheduled for destruction."
"As we identified problems at six of the 10 VAROs, we concluded this is a systemic issue within VBA," it said.
The OIG said that of the 69 claims documents that were about to be shredded, 11 either affected or had the potential to affect benefits claims. While the rest didn't, the report said those documents were still required to be included in veterans' claims folders.
The OIG said the problem shouldn't be underestimated.
"[T]he potential effect on veterans should not be minimized," its report said. "Considering that there are 56 VAROs and if weekly shredding is conducted, it is highly likely that claims-related documents at other VAROs are being improperly scheduled for destruction that could result in loss of claims and evidence, incorrect decisions and delays in claims processing."
The OIG blamed "unclear and confusing" policies for the scheduled destruction of documents. Concerned Veterans for America said the problem is just the latest piece of evidence that the VA's internal problems are causing real problems for vets.
"What this report makes clear is that these systemic issues plaguing the Veterans Benefits Administration, and the agency as a whole, have very real impacts on veterans across the country," CVA spokesman John Cooper told the Washington Examiner.
"Many veterans are waiting months, even years, for their benefits, and now we learn that even more of them may be at risk of delayed benefits because VA employees are improperly handling, or just flat-out destroying, their claims documents," he said. "At what point will VA leadership get serious about fixing these problems?"