VA fires back at new allegations of veteran deaths

by: Rachel Stockman Updated:

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DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is firing back after an allegation that thousands of veterans died in limbo after a flawed rollout of the V.A’s online health care application program.

The Health Eligibility Center for the VA is located on Clairmont Road in DeKalb County. The division is responsible for overseeing the health care enrollment applications for millions of veterans nationwide. That is where one whistleblower, who spoke with Channel 2 Action News, says many problems with mismanagement began.

“The problems start with the enrollment process. If you can’t enroll, you can’t get an appointment to see a doctor,” said Scott Davis, a whistleblower who works at the Health Eligibility Center in DeKalb County.

Davis testified before a House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs earlier this summer about the mismanagement at the VA, and the backlog of pending applications.

Davis says a recent Atlanta Journal Constitution investigation that found that more than 47,000 veterans may have died with applications pending for health care is not surprising.  

“The online application system is the slowest. Even though the VA spent millions of dollars to create an enrollment system, here we are four years later and it is a complete failure,” Davis said.

Davis said part of the problem with the new online enrollment program that was rolled out in 2010 is that veterans are not able to upload discharge papers.

“You can drive from anywhere in the country and drive to DC turn your paper application in quicker time then it would take process an online application,” said Davis.

In a blog posted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, officials fired back. 

“The system is currently designed to be less burdensome by not requiring Veterans to submit documents, such as the DD 214 (the military’s Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty), when VA can work with partners such as the Defense Department and Veterans Benefits Administration to verify an applicant’s military service through other mechanisms. VA can verify eligibility for approximately 65 percent of veterans without a DD-214. For applicants that we can’t verify from our files, we contact them and ask them to provide the necessary documentation,” the blog said.

In the blog post, the VA claims the actual number of pending application is closer to 200,000, and this makes up just a very small percentage of the more than 8 million in the health care system.

A senior official told Channel 2 Action News that she didn’t know how many of those on the pending list were now dead.

“It is looking at the quality of service that they get from the V.A.,” said Drew Early, a veteran’s attorney, and veteran himself. “I don’t care it is 800,000, 200,000 or 20. If it doesn’t meet the standard, the standard hasn’t been met and these are people in need.”

Lynne Harbin, a senior VA official who oversees the Health Eligibility Center says that even though congressional investigators were originally told more than 800,000 applications were pending. She says the number is close to 200,000. Harbin says the names are just records that are in the system, and do not necessarily mean that the veteran was attempting to apply for enrollment in the health care system.

“Now that they can be fired for their neglect and mistreatment of veterans, now they want to come up with a new narrative and new story. Now they are under the umbrella of accountability they are afraid for their jobs,  but I hope no one will be fooled by this smoke screen,” said Davis.