by – Sheri de Grom
The most recent Inspector General (IG) report reveals egregious problems with enrollment data within The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The report identified so many complications it was impossible to determine how many veterans were actively seeking health care from the VA.
Data limitations make it impossible to decide how many now-deceased veterans have asked for health care and never received so much as a reply.
More than 300,000 American military veterans likely died while waiting for health care—and nearly twice that many are still waiting—according to a new VA Inspector General report.
The VA has acknowledged that its enrollment process is confusing and that data integrity and quality are in need of significant improvement.
The changes that have come about are because a whistle-blower reported that more than 200,000 veterans with pending applications for VA health care were likely deceased. The IG report substantiated that claim and others, but said there was no way to tell for sure when or why the veterans died.
Deficiencies in the VA’s information security—including a lack of audit trails and system backups—limited investigators’ abilities to authenticate some issues fully and rule out data manipulation.
As of June 30, 2015, the VA has contacted 302,045 veterans by mail, asking them to send required documents to establish eligibility. To date, the VA has received 36,749 responses and enrolled 34,517 veterans.
The above ratio of numbers represents a wasted expenditure. Would the same 36,749 have answered if flyers had been posted by volunteers at shelters, local markets, and places where veterans gather?
The homeless population isn’t going to answer mail from the VA. Many of them have
serious mental health problems and others have given up and wonder how their lives could have gone so terribly wrong. We have provisions for the homeless population to receive mail at United States Post Offices but I wonder how many homeless vets are aware of this fact.
Twenty-two veterans still commit suicide every 24 hours. Of those 22 veterans, only 17 had enrolled for services at the VA and the other 5 are unaccounted for. My suspicion is that the number of unreported suicides is much higher due to states not reporting suicides to the federal government. Nor do the states report if the deceased individual had veteran status. We simply don’t do a good job of identifying our veterans who need help. Some don’t want it and others don’t know how to use it.
I’ve maintained my Federal Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance for 30 years so that Tom and I would never be at the mercy of the VA and Ticare for Life. I’d seen so much that was wrong and had experienced too many bad customer service encounters in my early days of working for the government. I was determined; Tom would never become a victim of the VA system. I wanted us to always have a choice of the best medical care available.
I believe the VA’s low response to the letters they mailed signifies a continued distrust of the VA by Vietnam era Veterans. Additionally, thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans have had a disturbing reentry into civilian life and enrollment for health care benefits is difficult at best.
The number of veterans who received the letters and have other health insurance is unknown. Like Tom, they would have private health insurance and if they had retired from the military they would be eligible for Tricare payment for any deductible when using their private health insurance.
Federal law mandates everyone eligible for Tricare, Veterans included, must enroll in Medicare Part B. The Veteran would not need to contact the VA for health care services.
There are advantages of being enrolled in the VA and I urge any qualifying veteran to do so. They are building programs for treating the elderly with dignity. The VA has realized home care is less expensive and more beneficial to veterans and family members than nursing home care. The veteran stays in his/her own home and funds are made available for care in the home setting. Are the funds adequate; that remains to be seen.
Gaining access to these funds is not easy. It requires a united front from all caregivers to receive equal distribution of aid and assistance. I will be discussing this in a future blog.
If the VA is to survive, changes must be made. Congress promised to put into place regulations to remove those taking advantage of the VA program, e.g., administrators not doing their jobs and many others. The VA will not improve for our veterans until we can give them what they deserve for giving us the best years of their lives.