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VA Blames Coverage Woes for Combat Veterans on Incomplete Applications

Doctor with an elderly patient.

The Veterans Affairs Department is denying that a computer glitch caused some 35,000 combat veterans to be denied VA health care, saying that the problem rests with incomplete applications.

"The computer system is operating as it was designed and according to VA policy," spokeswoman Walinda West said.

What is happening is that some veterans did not answer questions on income eligibility or, alternatively, agree to cover applicable co-pays for non-combat related care.

"If a combat veteran declines to provide income information, there are two questions that must be answered related to paying copays for non-combat related care," she said. "If these last two questions are not answered during the intake process, the application is placed into a pending status."

Scott Davis, a program specialist at the VA's Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta Georgia told The Huffington Post in a story published Wednesday that a computer system error has kept more than 35,000 combat vets from getting care.

The Health Eligibility Center verifies eligibility for department health care benefits.

Davis, who testified as a VA whistleblower before Congress in 2014, provided the Huffington Post with an agency analysis of the number of veterans listed as pending for health care enrollment because they didn't complete the financial questions.

About 16,000 veterans have been on the pending list for more than five years and about 19,000 have anywhere from a month up to five years, according to the report.

Davis called the questions "an illegal, artificial barrier" to combat veterans accessing care.

West said the financial questions are partly intended to ensure that veterans with less means get additional benefits, including travel for beneficiaries and exemptions for co-pays for care not related to military service.

They are not required to fill out the income questions, she said, but if they decline to do so they are asked to agree to cover any non-military service related care co-pays.

If they do not complete the last part after declining to provide income information, she said, the applications goers into pending status.

She said the VA makes "multiple attempts" to reach veterans and get the information if their applicators end up in pending status, but did not say how frequently.

She said VA is currently trying to reach combat veterans on the pending list "by phone and mail."

She also acknowledged that the department has identified a problem with "frontline employees" communicating directly with veterans, and that it is developing teaching aids to help them improve.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com

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