Recent Inspection Of Disability Claims Filed By Veterans At VA Regional Office In Newark, NJ Reveals Significant Errors

The Benefits Inspection Division is part of the Office of Inspector General (IG) in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Benefits Inspection Division’s mission is to improve management of VA benefits processing activities and veterans’ services. The Benefits Inspection Division conducts on-site inspections at VA Regional Offices (VARO) to review disability compensation claims processing and VARO operations. Reports of the VARO inspections are issued periodically by the IG.

On September 29, 2010, the IG  issued its latest report summarizing the results of the Benefits Inspection Division’s most recent inspection  of the Newark, NJ VARO. The IG’s report is attached here. I found the report to be troubling in a number of respects.

The IG reviewed only 120 VA disability claims,  a very small percentage of the VA disability claims pending in the Newark VARO. Of the 120 disability claims reviewed, the IG found that the Newark VARO correctly processed 71% of the claims. This seems unusually high, yet it is one of the lowest VA claims processing accuracy rates compared with other VAROs inspected.

Significantly, the IG found that the Newark VARO correctly processed VA disability claims based upon herbicide exposure and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 100% of the time. I find claims of 100% accuracy difficult to accept.

The Newark VARO staff incorrectly processed 37% of the traumatic brain injury (TBI) claims reviewed. As a result, veterans often did not receive correct healthcare entitlements or benefits payments when filing TBI claims.

A Notice of Disagreement (NOD) is a written communication from a claimant expressing dissatisfaction or disagreement with a benefits decision and a desire to contest the decision. A NOD is the first step in the VA appeals process. The IG report found that the Newark VARO exceeded the recommended processing time for NODs in 40% of the cases reviewed, thereby delaying the time for appeals.

The VA must consider beneficiary competency in every case involving a mental health condition, and appoint a a fiduciary, which is a third party that assists in managing funds for an incompetent beneficiary, in appropriate cases. The Newark VARO staff unnecessarily delayed making final decisions in 50% of the incompetency determinations completed. The delays ranged from 18 to 530 days, with an average completion time of 135 days.

Most of the errors in the Newark VARO identified by the IG involve providing over payments or unjustified payments to veterans.

The report is annexed here – Inspection VARO Newark September 2010