AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Report: 35,000 combat vets denied VA care, errors linked to Atlanta office

Problems at the VA's national health enrollment office in Atlanta are back in the news this week after a report that more than 35,000 combat veterans are illegally being denied health care access.

The Huffington Post report says the problem stems from a computer system error linked to the VA's national Health Eligibility Center (HEC) in Atlanta. Most of the veterans who are on this pending list are veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq who are being denied access, according to Scott Davis, a whistleblower who works in the Atlanta office, who is quoted in the report.

The story says that the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, chaired by Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., planned to meet with leaders with the HEC this week and press for answers about the pending problem.

The center oversees health enrollment decisions for 8.9 million veterans across the country and has been plagued by backlog of more than 800,000 pending health applications first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year. The AJC report highlighted how system failures in the online enrollment system overseen by the center in Atlanta exacerbated delays in veterans' health care applications getting approved.

The report in the Huffington Post quotes whistleblower Scott Davis, who provided an analysis showing that the 35,093 veterans were being denied care because they didn't complete a means test. That is not a requirement for combat veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"The VA has created an illegal, artificial barrier for people to access care," Davis said. "We're not talking about people who didn't get care because they didn't want it. We're talking about people who turned in applications and VA said, 'No, go into a backlog because you didn't give us financial information.'"

The Huffington Post reported in July that 234,000 of the more than 800,000 veterans who have pending health applications with the VA have already died. They quoted Davis in that report as a whistleblower who had provided information for that report.

Davis testified before Congress in July 2014 after he was quoted in an AJC story that June detailing problems at the health eligibility center. The AJC also reported last October that top VA officials misled veterans and the public about the pending backlog and tried to downplay the extent of the problem.

VA senior officials, including Secretary Robert McDonald, have known about the pending problem since last year's AJC investigation. He would not directly answer the Huffington Post's question about the problem impacting combat veterans when asked about it at a Politico event in Washington last week.

VA spokeswoman Walinda West is quoted by HuffPost saying they are taking steps to correct the problem. "We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience that this issue may have caused our Veterans. We're working to get this right."

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About the Author

Brad Schrade is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter on the AJC’s investigative team.