The VA’s Health Eligibility Center – an arm of the Veterans Affairs Department in Atlanta, Georgia – is responsible for overseeing the process by which veterans seek access to healthcare at the VA medical system. In recent years, it has come under intense scrutiny for mismanagement and delays in providing medical care; however, it’s now facing additional scrutiny for eliminating 208, 272 applications from across the country for health care, in effort to shrink an already massive backlog of requests.
According to the VA records, these applications were eliminated because they were missing signatures or information related to military service and income, and some of the applications even date back to 1998. However, many feel that the VA should have done more to communicate with the veterans before abandoning their applications. Those veterans, who have already had to cope with reentry into civilian life, change addresses following deployments overseas and suffer from the stresses of combat, now are forced to reapply for health care.
Instead of working with those veterans to provide them with the health care they need and deserve, the VA simply sent out one rejection letter to each of the applicants in 2016, which purportedly detailed what information was missing and, thus, delaying the process. The VA also opted against sending an additional letter, which a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers recommended they do in 2017. The recommendation came as those lawmakers – including Georgia Sen. Isakson – were responding to allegations that a coding error had caused the VA to send veterans incorrect letters about what they still needed to submit. Yet, according to the VA and its Office of Inspector General, the additional letter was not needed as it had been determined that there was no such coding error, meaning the 2016 letters were appropriate.
According to the agency’s records, there were 8.8 million veterans enrolled in the VA’s health care system as of April 2019, and the VA has said that it enrolled 395, 417 people and rejected 98, 897 in the fiscal year ending in September. As for pending applications, the backlog totaled 317, 157 in April, which is down from last year’s 886, 045 applications.
The VA has said that it’s now striving to contact veterans about incomplete applications up to six times, each with phone calls and letters, and the Health Eligibility Center has, meanwhile, added 115 employees since July of 2016 to assist with this process. However, those 208, 272 applications that were eliminated did not receive the above treatment.
Those critics who have been outspoken over this issue, including Scott Davis (a VA employee and whistleblower) and Adrian Atizado (deputy national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans), as well as others, feel that the VA should have made much stronger efforts to reach those veterans before just rejecting and closing their applications. Moreover, the current number of backlogged cases is still far too high, and some have even suggested that more collaboration between the VA and veteran service groups (like Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) could reduced this number even more.
While there’s no doubt that the current number of pending, backlogged health care applications needs to continuously shrink in numbers, the practice of eliminating over 200,000 applications – with only one notification letter – is not the answer. In fact, it’s quite appalling and completely unacceptable.
Post by Whit Long