VA under fire for plan to review all post-traumatic
stress disorder claims
By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Friday, October 21,
“To the VA, this is simply a process seeking out voids in
paperwork,” said Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M, at a Thursday hearing on Capitol Hill. “But to veterans, it’s a
jolting realization that their day-to-day struggles are being questioned again.”
In August, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced plans to
review 72,000 cases where veterans had received a 100 percent disability rating for post-traumatic stress disorder, after
an investigation of 2,100 such cases found
that more than 25 percent lacked justification for those claims.
Jon Wooditch, acting inspector general for the department, said
Thursday that the goal of the comprehensive review was not to cut benefits but to find reasons behind inconsistencies in the
way claims are rewarded.
For example, in Illinois, only about 2.8 percent of PTSD cases receive
the 100 percent rating, and the average yearly payment for treatment is $6,961. But in New Mexico, more than 12 percent of
PTSD receive that highest disability
claim, and the payment average there is $12,004.
“We want to make sure everyone is receiving what they’re
entitled to under the law,” he said.
But critics called it a way for the department to save money by
shirking its duty to care for disabled veterans. Quentin Kinderman, deputy director of legislative service for the Veterans
of Foreign Wars of the United States, called the IG report flawed and the proposed review a waste of money.
“There is very little potential to reduce the number of cases
here,” he said. “And we’ve very concerned about the impact of the review and publicity on veterans,
especially those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, who need the kind of counseling that the VA can provide.”
Democrats echoed those concerns, and called for a halt to plans
to review the cases.
Udall said in one case, a veteran in his district committed suicide
after hearing about plans for the review. Officials from New Mexico found the man, a Vietnam veteran, with information regarding
the review beside his Purple Heart
when he took his life.
“The manner in which [VA officials] have proceeded has done
more harm than good,” he said.
Cynthia Bascetta, director of income security issues at the Government
Accountability Office, said the VA does need to review how it handles cases for efficiency purposes, but she told the committee
the department’s proposed approach is flawed.
She said officials need to sample both completed claims cases and
rejected applications to find inefficiencies and mistakes in the process, which Democrats also asked for.
Ranking member Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., also questioned the
review, noting that federal law prohibits veterans benefits from being revoked unless officials can prove fraud occurred.
Wooditch said cases reviewed that lacked evidence to prove the 100
percent PTSD disability claim were likely not the result of fraud, but instead simple mistakes in paperwork or administrative