Dozens of West Coast military veterans incorrectly received letters indicating they’d lose unemployment benefits after an overworked Department of Veterans Affairs office in Seattle lost track of records the veterans had submitted, according to a VA Inspector General report released this week.
The mail audit stemmed from a complaint that suggested about 1,000 pieces of unread mail from veterans were being stored indefinitely in a yellow bucket without a response from employees assigned to evaluate benefits claims.
In some cases, the complaint alleged, veterans were told they’d lose unemployment benefits because they had not returned information to the office in a timely manner even though they had met their deadlines.
The unemployment benefits are given to veterans who can’t hold a job because of a service-connected disability.
Auditors who visited the Seattle office in April did not find a bucket loaded with unread letters, as had been alleged in the complaint. However, they did talk to employees who were familiar with it and called it the “yellow bucket project.”
They also took a sampling of 132 employment questionnaires and determined that a fifth of the veterans had been sent letters indicating a reduction or cancellation of benefits, even though they’d mailed forms that should have allowed them to continue receiving money.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on Friday wrote a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald asking him to immediately implement reforms recommended in the report, such as increasing training and demanding a high-level corrective-action plan from a VA undersecretary to address broader problems with record management.
“I am shocked by the findings of this report and I hope you will agree this situation is entirely unacceptable. This is exactly the type of mismanagement and negligence that further complicates the benefits process for veterans, leading to unnecessary stress and unacceptably delaying benefits to which these veterans are entitled,” Murray wrote.
The VA Office of Inspector General publishes reports on issues at different VA hospitals almost daily. This week’s report focusing on unread employment questionnaires fits into a series of audits the IG launched last year centered on mismanagement of veteran records.
Others in the set included:
▪ A Baltimore supervisor stockpiling 8,000 documents, including 1,500 records with sensitive personal information about veterans.
▪ An Oakland office that neglected to act on thousands of claims.
▪ Employees at different offices who manipulated internal records to falsify reports on the processing of claims.
In Seattle, managers of the regional office that processes veterans benefit claims acknowledged to the IG that it had fallen behind in processing unemployment records. It hired a dozen more employees in April to catch up on the backlog, according to the report.