What Has Your Local VARO Thrown in a Shred Bin?
Earlier this week, The Overwatch brought you a disturbing report from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) that multiple Veterans Affairs Regional Offices (VAROs) have been improperly shredding claims related documents. Not only should these documents never have made their way to a shred bin, they were never checked according to VBA policy to ensure that they were ready for shredding. Documents with direct impact on veterans’ claims were blatantly ignored by staff and supervisors alike.
Today we’ll elaborate on the stories coming out of the VAROs that were surveyed – specifically Houston, Reno, and Atlanta.
First up, Houston, Texas. Houston’s VARO received an appeal form in May of 2014, yet closed the file almost a year later claiming they never received the appeal. The veteran faxed an appeal to the VARO again three months after the file was closed. This appeal was just found in a shred bin. Houston VARO informed the veteran in August that his appeal was untimely, despite multiple attempts to appeal on time. Also in the shred bin, investigators found personnel records, including discharge papers. This veteran’s electronic file did not include all of his active duty records. If he were to file a claim in the future, part of his records wouldn’t even be in the system to review.
Next is Reno, Nevada. Its VARO received faxed evidence of veterans passing in a nursing home. Because VA covered the nursing home expenses, this veteran and his family were eligible for burial cost reimbursement. The evidence was never reviewed but thrown in a shred bin, the claim was denied, and the claimant did not receive the $722 in burial allowance.
Finally, what I consider to be the worst of the offenses took place in Atlanta, Georgia. A veteran sent a divorce agreement in May of last year in order to discontinue spousal benefits. VARO staff put this information into the veteran’s file, yet did not take any action to discontinue the benefits. Two months later, the VARO received congressional correspondence requesting that action be taken and this veteran’s former spouse removed from receiving benefits. Again, no action was taken and that document ended up, you guessed it, in a shred bin. Finally, in September (four months after the initial request) action was taken when the OIG pointed out the error. At that point the VA had overpaid $648.28 in benefits and informed the veteran that he was responsible to pay it back. It’s alright though, the Atlanta VARO was also found to be leaving their shred bins unlocked and in an insecure area, so retrieving any misplaced evidence is easy.
Check out the full report to find out if your VARO has been shredding claims-related documents.