A well-known whistleblower at the Department of Veterans Affairs is charging that the agency has purged thousands of veterans' pending health care applications, leaving them without the benefits they have earned.
Scott Davis, a VA employee who testified before Congress in 2015 on problems at the VA Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta, wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Examiner in May that the department has deleted more than 200,000 incomplete applications after failing to help resolve them.
Davis said the VA has not sufficiently notified affected veterans on the status of their applications. He also said it has not been proactive in obtaining accurate contact information for the veterans through the Internal Revenue Service or Social Security Administration.
"Instead, the agency has chosen a policy of sending a single notification letter for pending applications, despite knowing that 25% of the letters mailed to veterans are returned or placed on hold due to bad address information in the enrollment system," Davis wrote.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) reported Monday that the VA has abandoned 208,272 applications from veterans for health care services, saying they were missing required data and information and were a year old or more.
By law, according to the VA, the department must deem incomplete applications as "closed or abandoned" after one year. The VA notifies patients of their incomplete status by mail and then, when it closes an application, sends them a follow-up letter to reapply.
But Davis said the department should initiate an outreach campaign to reach affected veterans before closing the application.
In 2015, Davis revealed that the VA's Health Eligibility Center had a backlog of nearly 800,000 health care applications, including 245,000 from veterans who were deceased, having died after filing an application and before receiving a response.
Following an uproar from veterans advocates and members of Congress, the VA said it would notify veterans of their incomplete applications and extend the enrollment application for a year. After a year, the files are to be closed.
According to AJC, the backlog of pending applications was 317,157 in April, down from 886,045 last year.
Davis said, with the current backlog, veterans are denied access to health care benefits at a "rate of 5,000 new pending health care applications per month."
"This purge flies in the face of the previous guidance provided by lawmakers. On March 3, 2017, Senate and House Veterans Affairs committee members sent a joint letter to the VA, instructing the agency to delay its plans to purge these records. The committees wanted the VA to send new letters to veterans, informing them of their application status," Davis said.
In a rebuttal to Davis's op-ed, VA officials said the VA Office of Inspector General reviewed the letters and confirmed that the department sent correct correspondence to veterans. The department also "regularly reaches out to veterans both via letter and by phone call. This fiscal year alone, VA has made over 200,000 call attempts to veterans with pending applications," a VA official told Military.com.
"VA does not rely on a single notification letter to veterans. VA issues multiple letters and attempts to contact each veteran up to six times through a combination of letters and phone," the VA official said in a statement.
VA officials took issue with Davis' use of the word "purged." They also said veterans have not been denied benefits.
"VA has not 'purged' any applications. VA will continue closing incomplete applications in accordance with the law," the official stated. "VA encourages veterans to contact the Health Eligibility Center for assistance in completing their enrollment in VA."
Veterans also can go online at VA.gov, inquire in person at a VA medical center or call 1-877-222-8387 to ask about health care benefits and enrollment.