Officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs spent millions of taxpayer dollars promoting the Affordable Care Act to veterans who didn't even need the coverage, but have dedicated relatively few resources to helping veterans on the agency's long waiting list get access to their benefits, internal documents show.
The VA spent $6.125 million on brochures, letters and posters in an outreach campaign for Obamacare that ended last year, according to internal reports obtained by the Washington Examiner.
Scott Davis, a program specialist at the Atlanta VA enrollment center, said the VA likely spent much more than that on the Obamacare promotion campaign, given that the Atlanta enrollment center hired at least 40 additional staffers to push the health care legislation.
Records indicate the VA also spent money on Google advertisements, Spanish-language promotional materials and videos in an effort to spread the word about Obamacare.
However, veterans enrolled in the VA healthcare system are not subject to penalties imposed on the uninsured under the Affordable Care Act and thus didn't need to change anything about their coverage to comply with the legislation.
"If a veteran is already enrolled, what else do you need to tell them?" Davis said, noting the VA "used every form of communication" to contact veterans about Obamacare between 2013 and 2014.
An August document indicates the VA sent 2.8 million Affordable Care Act "buddy" letters in Aug. 2013. Two years later, in August of this year, the VA sent just 10,000 letters warning combat veterans that their eligibility for health care benefits was about to expire.
As of the end of August, the VA had a backlog of more than 822,000 pending health care applications from veterans seeking to be enrolled in the VA system. According to internal records, nearly 650,000 of those applications had been set to "pending" because the veterans did not provide proper verification of their income — something that is not actually required of combat veterans.
The other 173,000 applications were thrown into the pending pile because veterans did not submit their discharge papers as proof of their military service, although veterans were never told they needed to do so. Internal emails suggest the VA's reasons for refusing to tell veterans about the need to turn in their discharge papers were politically motivated.
Davis questioned why the massive backlog of pending applications has sparked a limited push to mail letters to veterans, but the Obamacare promotional campaign warranted a major, multi-media blitz.
What's worse, veterans are being asked to correct mistakes on their applications that were not their fault in the first place.
"This is all intentionally done to create artificial barriers for veterans to get access to health care," Davis said.
"The VA knows the people who get turned away ... are not going to be people of means, and the only thing they can do, if anything, is write a letter to their congressman," he added. "These are the people in society who are most vulnerable and for that reason, the VA thinks they can treat them however they want."
The VA did not respond to a request for comment about the size and scope of its outreach campaign to veterans in the pending application backlog.
However, a VA spokesperson said the more than 29,000 combat veterans who are still waiting for their benefits because they did not include income verification on their applications will receive letters asking them to update their applications the week of Nov. 25.
Davis blasted the agency for its decision to send such crucial letters the week of Thanksgiving.
"We are not doing anything as an agency to educate people about the backlog," he said. "None of this is by accident."
In July, VA officials put forward a "change order" requesting the agency change its online forms so combat veterans' applications weren't automatically cast aside if they didn't include income verification.
That proposed solution has collected dust ever since.
"If VA doesn't want to fix their systems, then they at least should tell veterans to apply in person, show up with a DD-214 verifying your service record, and be prepared to share some basic information to do a means test," Davis said, referring to "DD-214" forms that reflect a veteran's official military record.
The VA whistleblower said the VA should expend the same amount of time and effort tracking down veterans whose applications are stuck in limbo as they did needlessly promoting Obamacare.
"I think really, the appropriate thing to do actually would've been for VA to do the same thing they did for ACA with the pendings," he said.
While the backlog of pending applications stretches back to 1998, Davis said the VA has only attempted to contact veterans who applied recently.
"All they've done is mail letters to people who have been in a pending status from 2012 and 2013 going forward," he said. "When they did their pending mailing campaign, they only went back two years."
The backlog of applications is so long and massive that nearly 300,000 veterans died while waiting to be enrolled in the VA system.