The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has acknowledged a significant failure in processing Veterans’ requests, affecting as many as 56,000 Veterans seeking to add or remove dependents.
This oversight, dating back to 2011, became known during an investigation into technical issues hampering Veterans’ attempts to file online appeals related to their PACT Act claims decisions.
While the VA has taken steps to rectify the technical problems, the revelation of unprocessed requests underscores the challenges faced by the VA in managing its systems and obligations to Veterans.
Identifying the Technical Problem
The VA became aware of these errors while investigating a technical glitch that caused difficulties for approximately 900 Veterans trying to file online appeals for their PACT Act claims.
This glitch prevented Veterans from completing the crucial “notice of disagreement” form through the website.
Upon investigation, the VA determined that this issue resulted from a software bug inadvertently introduced during a planned update on July 27.
To address the problem, the VA implemented a fix on September 1, ensuring that Veterans could once again access the system and file their appeals.
The VA Press Secretary, Terrence Hayes, stated that the agency is now closely monitoring the system to prevent any further disruptions caused by this issue.
Uncovering Unprocessed Requests
While examining the claims issue, a VA information technology specialist made a startling discovery.
It was revealed that around 56,000 Veterans who had submitted requests to update their dependents—either by adding or removing spouses or children—had not seen these requests successfully processed through VA.gov.
This oversight, which may have persisted since 2011, has significant implications for the Veterans’ monthly benefit payments affected.
The agency first investigated this matter in August 2021.
However, the full scope and urgency of the problem only became apparent in August, during the recent review of the PACT Act appeals system.
Taking Immediate Action
The VA has promptly responded to this critical issue.
Efforts are underway to identify all Veterans impacted by the “notice of disagreement” problem.
The VA aims to contact these Veterans to ensure that they can submit their appeals, dating back to their initial appeal date.
Furthermore, the agency is actively working on a solution to address the problem of unprocessed dependent updates.
This involves identifying Veterans who were affected, adjusting their benefits payments as necessary, and ensuring that no more Veterans are impacted by this oversight.
In the words of Terrence Hayes, “We will ensure that all underpaid Veterans receive the full backdated benefits they deserve, and that no Veterans are negatively impacted by our error.”
The VA is committed to resolving this issue and ensuring that affected Veterans receive their rightful benefits and appeals decisions.
This announcement follows a series of challenges related to the VA.gov website, impacting Veterans’ disability claims.
In the previous month, approximately 32,000 Veterans received letters notifying them that claims submitted through the website had not been processed, with some errors dating back to 2018.
Recipients of these letters were assured that the VA was conducting a thorough review of the issue and that they did not need to take immediate action.
However, they were advised to remain attentive to future requests from the VA for additional information.
Earlier in August, the VA extended the filing deadline for Veterans seeking retroactive disability compensation claims under the PACT Act.
This extension came after a surge in applications overwhelmed the department’s online filing portal, resulting in error messages for approximately 20% of applicants.
In April, the VA made the decision to halt all future deployments of a new electronic health records system developed by Oracle Cerner.
This decision was prompted by issues experienced at several facilities that implemented the system, including concerns about patient safety and difficulties encountered by healthcare providers while using the system.
A Commitment to Technological Improvement
The VA has long grappled with challenges associated with its aging information technology infrastructure.
The fiscal year 2024 budget request highlights the VA’s commitment to ongoing modernization efforts.
The proposed budget allocates $6.4 billion to the Office of Information Technology for the continued upgrade of aging IT infrastructure and services.
Additionally, $1.9 billion is earmarked for transitioning to a new electronic health records system.
VA officials emphasize that the department remains dedicated to modernizing claims processing to enhance service for Veterans. They are implementing new technological measures to identify and rectify claims that are not processed correctly, notifying VA leadership of any issues, and investigating the underlying causes of problems such as the “notice of disagreement” bug.