33% of veterans in backlog have died

First Posted: 10:48 am - August 21st, 2015

By Thomas Crisp - Contributing Columnist

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More than 238,000 of the 847,000 veterans in the pending backlog for health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs have already died, according to an internal VA document provided to The Huffington Post.

Scott Davis, a program specialist at the VA’s Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta and a past whistleblower on the VA’s failings, provided HuffPost with an April 2015 report titled “Analysis of Death Services,” (http://big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/DeathAnalyses2015.pdf) which reviews the accuracy of the VA’s veteran death records.

The report was conducted by staffers in the VA Health Eligibility Center and the VA Office of Analytics. As of April, there were 847,822 veterans listed as pending for enrollment in VA health care. Of those, 238,657 are now deceased, meaning they died after they applied for, but never got, health care.

The VA has no mechanism to purge the list of dead applicants, and some of those applying, according to VA spokeswoman Walinda West, likely never completed the application, yet remain on the pending list anyway. West said the VA electronic health record system has been in place since 1985, suggesting some of the data may be decades old and some of those people may have gone on to use other insurance.

At a minimum, the high number of dead people on the pending list indicates a poor bookkeeping process that overstates the number of living applicants — a number that should be closer to 610,000.

Davis sent copies of the report to House and Senate committees that oversee veterans’ affairs, and to the White House, hoping to spur congressional and presidential action to pressure VA to clear its health care backlog. A spokesman for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee did not respond to a request for comment. A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

The Veterans Affairs Department’s system for verifying whether a veteran is alive or dead contributes to costly or embarrassing errors, including compensation being paid to veterans who have passed away and records indicating they had visited doctors after they died, according to an internal VA report. The report, a review of the VA’s death eligibility system, found that the department’s medical records system lists as active patients 2.7 million veterans who are, in fact, dead.

But the VA can’t expunge them from their rolls because the death notices came from sources such as the Social Security Administration, Medicare, the Defense Department and other government entities that the VA does not accept as proof of death.

The VA accepts only actual death certificates, a record of a death at a VA facility or a notification from the National Cemetery Administration as sufficient verification to remove a veteran from the system, according to department officials.

This method of record-keeping creates confusion over who is receiving care and benefits, and has prompted charges that nearly 30 percent of the 847,882 veterans waiting to hear whether they are eligible for VA health care died before they ever received word of a decision, as was reported Monday in the Huffington Post.

Another problem with the poor record keeping: dead patients making and keeping doctor’s appointments, receiving checks and filling prescriptions.

According to the internal VA report published April 1 by the department’s Date of Death Workgroup, the records of 10 percent of veterans in the VA system indicated “activity” — they received compensation payments, visited a doctor, made an appointment or had a prescription filled — after their actual date of death.

The report found that 2.3 million veterans with applications for VA enrollment actually are deceased. A VA spokeswoman said the report points to the need for the VA to improve its methodology for verifying deaths.

The working group recommended that VA develop an algorithm to identify individuals whose dates of death could be updated from other sources.

TBI survivors wanted

The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) is recruiting survivors of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) to share their stories of courage and resilience for its A Head for the Future TBI awareness and prevention initiative. These “TBI champions” will show the importance of recognizing brain injuries, and that recovery is possible. A champion can be a service member, veteran or family member who has experienced brain injury in a noncombat situation.

Champions will help spotlight TBI prevention and detection and encourage others who may have sustained a brain injury to get it checked out. A Head for the Future will feature champions using video testimonials and promote stories through blog posts and social media, including

Most cases of TBI in the military are diagnosed as occurring in noncombat settings. Leading causes include motor vehicle collisions, falls, sports-related incidents and training incidents. To submit your story, go to http://dvbic.dcoe.mil/aheadforthefuture/get-involved.

By Thomas Crisp

Contributing Columnist

Thomas Crisp is a retired military officer from Whitmire. His veterans updates can be found weekly in The Newberry Observer.


Thomas Crisp is a retired military officer from Whitmire. His veterans updates can be found weekly in The Newberry Observer.


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