AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Report: Veteran records mismanaged at Atlanta office

A new inspector general's investigation confirmed allegations of mismanagement and extensive mishandling of hundreds of thousands of veterans health care records at the VA's national health enrollment center in Atlanta.

The report confirmed many of the problems documented last year in an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and in information provided by whistleblowers at the VA's national Health Eligibility Center (HEC) based in Atlanta.

The AJC reported that a backlog of more than 800,000 health care applications existed and that at least 47,000 of those on the list were deceased. The report by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General confirmed these two allegations, but said it was not possible to determine how many were actual applications because data system flaws were so bad at the HEC.

The report said more than 477,000 of the records in the backlog had no application date. More than 300,000 of the applications were from people who were dead, but it was not possible to determine how many had actually applied for health care because the records were such a mess.

"I’m happy this has been addressed," said Scott Davis, the whistleblower who appeared in an AJC article and then testified before Congress about many of the problems at the HEC. "I do feel a sense of vindication and a sincere sense of sadness because so many veterans had to die while waiting for care. I do believe the secretary owes veterans and their families an apology."

Investigators also confirmed allegations that as many as 10,000 veteran health care applications may have been purged from the system improperly over a five-year period. The report said the lack of an audit trail or other system oversight features didn't allow investigators to determine the extent of the problem or if the deletions were done intentionally.

And the report also confirmed a backlog of more than 11,000 unprocessed health care applications and about 28,000 other transactions in question from more than two years ago. That problem was attributed to poor management of workload.

The report recommended the Veterans Health Administration -- a part of the VA -- assign a senior executive to fix the problems and hold them accountable for doing their job.

A statement by Deputy Inspector General Linda A. Halliday carried the headline:

"VA OIG Substantiates Whistleblower’s Claims of Extensive, Persistent Problems

in Veterans Health Care Enrollment Records."

VA, which has disputed Davis's claims for more than a year, issued a statement saying the agency is addressing problems in the enrollment system.

"Where issues in the report require additional review and accountability actions, VA will act as necessary and pursue them and afford all concerned appropriate due process," a VA spokeswoman said.

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About the Author

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